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Thursday, September 8, 2016, 15:20

Curtain rises on Hong Kong Premier League

By Jeff Hardbattle

Curtain rises on Hong Kong Premier League

Eastern's loyal supporters look forward to a successful season. (Provided to China Daily by KLC Lau)

Just one week into the new season, the Hong Kong Premier League already promises another interesting year of professional top-flight football. Eleven teams will compete in the championship and three separate cup competitions. In the first round, the attendance has already increased by 30% compared to last year’s figures, suggesting that the recent euphoria for local football might continue. But what to expect from each club?

'The Big 4’

Eastern made history last year by becoming the first ever team to win a men’s top flight championship under the stewardship of a female coach, though Chan Yuen-ting may find life a lot harder this season after the club’s main sponsors pulled the plug on funding and with rivals Kitchee, South China and Pegasus all strengthening their squads heavily in the transfer market over the summer. The blues did kick off their campaign with 3 points at home to Tai Po last weekend in, however, and with the additions of Hong Kong international Jaimes Mckee, ex-Liaoning Whowin defender Josh Mitchell and former FC Istiklol striker Manuel Bleda Rodriguez, they are still by no means a side to be taken lightly.

That said, Kitchee are viewed by many as favourites to take back the title. After Eastern opted out of competing in the AFC Champions League, this paved the way for Chu Chi Kwong’s side to be the first Hong Kong club to enter into the group stages of the competition. It seems the bluewaves have bolstered their ranks with some impressive signings, including German-born Lam Zhi Gin who has plied his trade with Bundesliga side Hamburger SV, and Spanish aid in the form of centre-back Pau Bosch and striker Marcos de la Espada. Kitchee found it difficult in their opening match against Southern, though their quality eventually shone through in a 3:1 victory with surely greater things to come from the seven-time champions.

Curtain rises on Hong Kong Premier League
Eastern's center back Roberto Affonso Jr. was injured after a tough tackle against Tai Po. (Provided to China Daily by KLC Lau)
Though South China and Pegasus have added quality – most notably Serbian forward Nikola Komazec with the former and ex-Barcelona B striker Salva Chamorro with the latter, both sides seem some way behind Eastern and Kitchee in terms of challenging for the championship as the Caroliners, one of the many nicknames South China are known under, had to grind out a 1:0 victory at home to Sapling and Pegasus had to settle for a disappointing draw against Rangers in the first round of fixtures.

Furthermore, some of the other established teams in the league will undoubtedly be looking to cause an upset to one of the “Big Four”.

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