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Thursday, December 28, 2017, 12:05
Eastern look to continue league revival ahead of FA Cup
By Jeff Hardbattle
Thursday, December 28, 2017, 12:05 By Jeff Hardbattle

Eastern are in the final of the Senior Shield after overcoming Southern last week. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)

Yuen Long and Eastern both booked their place in the final of the Senior Shield over the festive period, with the Tangerines stunning current champions Kitchee with a 3-1 win after extra time. Eastern managed to overcome Southern in a narrow 1-0 win, and the two sides will now look forward to meeting in the final on 27 January 2018 at Hong Kong Stadium. Elsewhere, Hong Kong was rocked by the news that representative team head coach Kim Pan-gon has resigned, taking up a new role with his native Korean Football Association as Technical Director. Appointed in November 2012, the team improved significantly under his tenure, with some of his more notable results including two nil-nil draws with China in the World Cup qualifying group stages back in 2015. The search will now begin for a suitable successor, and the Hong Kong FA will no doubt be looking for a renowned and experienced coach following Hong Kong’s rise in the FIFA world rankings over Kim’s six year reign. Despite this, the domestic campaign continues while approaching the New Year, with Eastern looking to edge their way back towards the upper heights of the league table when they face Dreams in the Premier League. Two fixtures in the first round of the FA Cup will put an end to an eventful year in Hong Kong football.

EASTERN v DREAMS, Premier League, Mong Kok Stadium, Dec 28, 8:00 pm

A rescheduled fixture from Round 5 due to inclement weather, life is looking up for Eastern and Szeto Man-chun, who have now not lost a league fixture since the end of September. Despite some less than impressive showings in the Sapling Cup, the Blues showed no lack of endeavour in the Senior Shield, and they battled their way to a 1-0 win, courtesy of a first half Manuel Bleda strike. The Spaniard was a key figure for Eastern last season and will surely continue to be his team’s most dangerous threat going forward. There was also controversy in the match after Eastern reported a strange incident to the HKFA in which it appeared as though Southern player Diego Garrido used a sharp object on Blues’ midfielder Diego Eli, with the latter complaining to the referee, but no action being taken on the field. The HKFA and Southern are now investigating. 

Meanwhile, Dreams continue to make an excellent account of themselves on the domestic front. Their last outing was a 1-1 draw against Yuen Long in Group A of the Sapling Cup, where despite falling behind, Kitchee loanee Harima Hirokane managed to prod the ball home from close range just ten minutes from time. Indeed, the last time these two sides met was in the Sapling Cup, where Dreams ran out as surprise 1-0 winners, but with Eastern looking increasingly more a tougher unit to crack, the result could be very different this time round.

R&F are steadily beginning to find form in the Premier League. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)

R&F v YUEN LONG, FA Cup, Yuen Long Stadium, Dec 30, 2:30 pm

After looking they may have turned a corner, R&F have now lost four games in a row. Still, those four games have been against tough opposition in the form of Pegasus, Eastern and two matches against league leaders Kitchee. Their last defeat to the champions was in the Sapling Cup just under a fortnight ago, where despite a dogged performance they could not quite keep their opponents at bay in the 0-1 defeat. Giovane da Silva has rediscovered his scoring touch recently with two goals in the last three games, and he could be key in getting his side into the next round.

Yuen Long, though, produced one of their best showings of the season on Christmas Eve with a stunning 3-1 win over Kitchee in the Senior Shield semi-finals, which incidentally was the Bluewaves’ only domestic defeat this season. Everton Camargo proved to be a constant menace to the defence in the match, bagging two goals in extra time to book Yuen Long’s first appearance in a Senior Shield final in more than years. Knowing they can beat a team like Kitchee will be a massive boost to head coach Tsang Chiu-tat and the team’s morale, and this could prove to be a turning point in the Tangerines’ disappointing season.

LEE MAN v DREAMS, FA Cup, Mong Kok Stadium, Dec 31, 2:30 pm

Lee Man have certainly looked a more assured side since their confidence instilling victory over Southern in the league, and progressing to the quarter finals of the FA cup would be an excellent way to cap off their first year in the top flight. They also frustrated Eastern in their last game in the Sapling Cup, grinding out a goalless draw with the runners-up of last year. 

Dreams have a busy end-of-year with two matches in four days, and fatigue could prove to be a factor as to whether they move on to the next round. The winners of this match will play Kitchee in the last eight, and with the Dreamers going well in the league and topping the group in the Sapling Cup, it might be a match where some of their senior players take a well earned rest.

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