The Guangdong Province seletion lifted the trophy for the 24th time in 2017. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)
There was no break for local football over the Christmas and New Year holidays, and besides the on-going league and cup competitions, there have also been some spectacular transfer news: Kitchee chairman Ken Ng confirmed that the club has been negotiating with former Uruguayan national team player Diego Forlán for a potential half-season spell in Hong Kong, which should give the local champions a significant promotion boost for their inaugural Asian Champions League campaign. The 38-year-old forward has gained global fame while scoring for big players such as Manchester United (2002-04), Atletico Madrid (2007-11), and Inter Milan (2011-12). The recent years were a bit quieter, with short contracts for Cerezo Osaka in the Japanese J-League and Mumbai City in the Indian Super League. Previously, Forlán was expected to retire this year, but a half-season appearance in Hong Kong – ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup – might still be a worthwhile and attractive offer before ending his career.
Meanwhile, Eastern have confirmed the signing of Kawasaki Frontale defender Yusuke Igawa, who is set to replace South Korean defender Jo Tae-keun for what has been a troublesome season for the Eastern defence so far. The problems continued in the most recent Hong Kong Premier League match against Dreams, in which the Blues succumbed to a 0-1 defeat on 28 December at Mong Kok Stadium. Nacho Martinez scored the only goal of the match in the 42nd minute, which let the Dreamers bag all three points. The victory sees the newcomers finishing the year on a surprising third place in the table, one point ahead of Tai Po.
Some of the Hong Kong youngster hope to surprise their strong opponents from Guangdong. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)
On 30 and 31 December, four local clubs still competed in the preliminary round of the FA Cup, which saw Yuen Long thrashing a weakened R&F squad 4-0, while Lee Man celebrated an impressive 3-1 win over Dreams. The Tangerines will now face their district team rivals Southern in the quarter finals in April. The draw for Lee Man is considerably tougher, as they have to take on Kitchee in the next round.
The Hong Kong Premier League will return in mid-January, and in the meantime the sole focus can rest on the 40th edition of the Guangdong-Hong Kong Cup. Established in the late 1970s, the annual tournament has been a mainstay of welcoming the new year. It is played in a two-leg format, with the home game taking place on 4 January 2018 at Hong Kong Stadium, and the away game on 7 January 2018 at the People’s Provincial Stadium in Guangzhou. Given the timing, Premier League clubs are rather reluctant to release their best players, and this is why the Hong Kong representative team usually participates with a so-called “b-team” in this competition. While there might be not too many familiar faces on the pitch for the occasional football fan, the event has turned into an important opportunity for young local players to impress. Given the expected rule change by the Chinese Football Association, which would allow Chinese clubs to register one player from Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan without affecting their limited quota for foreigners, this might also be seen as a great chance to fight for a potential employment contract in the mainland.
While the head coach of the representative team, Kim Pan-gon, surprisingly resigned from his position just before Christmas, it will be the first big test for the representative squad since then. For now, Kenneth Kwok will take charge of the team. Among the selected players are 18-year-old goalkeeper Tse Ka-wing (Dreams), as well as defenders Leung Kwun-chung (Tai Po), Tsui Wang-kit (Rangers), and Cheung Chi-yung (Pegasus). The midfield will feature Li Ngai-hoi (Pegasus), Ngan Lok-fung (Lee Man), Cheng Chin-lung (Dreams), and Michael Luk (Southern), while in attack it will be up to players such as Tommy Chuck Yiu-kwok (Rangers), Yuen Chun-sing (Tai Po), and Lo Kong-wai (Eastern) to provide the necessary goals. Rangers’ Lai Lok-yin, who scored the temporary equalizer in last year’s away tie, will also join the team.
The 3rd edition of the Guandong-Hong Kong women's cup will take place right before the men's game on 4 January 2018. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)
In the course of history, the selection of the Guangdong FA has won the competition 24 times, while Hong Kong are looking for their 16th win this year. However, it will be a tough challenge, as Guangdong has called in some heavy-weights of Chinese football, including Guangzhou R&F midfielder Chen Zhizhao as well as his teammates Lu Lin and Xiao Zhi. 32-year-old striker Xiao has scored seven times in the Chinese Super League last season, and also delivered an important goal in China’s 2-1 victory over Qatar last September. The selection will also feature Guangzhou-born Liang Xueming, who joined Festus Baise at Guizhou Zhicheng. Meanwhile, 24-year-old talent Yang Chaosheng of Guangzhou Evergrande might look for his comeback after suffering a leg-break during his loan at Wuhan Zall in China League One.
The last win for Hong Kong dates back five years from now, when they succeeded to beat Guangdong in penalties at Mong Kok Stadium. Still, with the Chinese players currently being in their long winter-break, there is some hope for the HKFA to re-capture the trophy.
The 8 pm kick-off on Thursday at Hong Kong Stadium will be preceded by a match between the women’s teams of Hong Kong and Guangdong Province. It will be the third edition of this one-legged competition, which was so far dominated by the ladies from Guangdong, who clinched the previous trophies in 2016 and 2017. The Hong Kong representative women’s team, which almost exclusively consists of amateurs, will also be without some of their best players, including striker Cheng Wai-ki, who is currently in action with Brisbane Roar in Australia’s Women’s League, as well as Lau Mong-king and Chan Wing-tsz, who are both injured at the moment. Nonetheless, newly appointed coach Ricardo Rambo is looking forward to this challenge, as it will be the first time for his team to play in the prestigious Hong Kong Stadium. The match will kick off at 5 pm on 4 January, and the tickets will also be valid for the men’s game three hours later in the same venue.