The return of the Hong Kong Premier League is finally upon us, and with eleven teams competing in the division this year, the competition is hotter than ever. Indeed, the average attendance for the five matches on offer over the weekend saw a rise of 30% – encouraging signs that interest in local football is truly on the rise.
The season was opened with a clash of champions, as last year’s HKPL winners Eastern took on newly-promoted First Division champions Tai Po at Mong Kok Stadium. The following day, relegation escape artists Rangers hosted the ambitious Pegasus at Tsing Yi Sports Ground, and Yuen Long entertained Hong Kong FC as the away side looked to kick off their professional debut with a win at Yuen Long Stadium. The final day of fixtures saw South China meet the resurrected Sapling at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, before Kitchee and Southern rounded off the first round of fixtures. Jeff Hardbattle rounds up the action. (All highlights are owned by and courtesy of on.cc)
EASTERN 1:0 TAI PO
STADIUM: Mong Kok Stadium
A bumper crowd at Mong Kok Stadium saw last year’s champions Eastern start their campaign in the perfect way with a 1:0 victory over Tai Po. After a summer of uncertainty with the Blues losing a large part of their financial backing, the club managed to retain the majority of its squad after new sponsorship arrived just before the season began, and in the 51st minute of what was largely a scrappy affair, loan returnee from Dreams FC Miroslav Saric was on hand to stroke the ball home past Li Hon Ho after battling through the Tai Po defence. There were encouraging signs from the away side who frustrated Eastern’s attacking threat especially during the first half, but ultimately Chan Yuen Ting’s men proved too strong and held out for their first victory of the season.
RANGERS 1:1 PEGASUS
STADIUM: Tsing Yi Sports Ground
Pegasus have made some ambitious signings over the course of the summer, most notably with Salvo Chamorro from Barcelona B linking up with Steve Gallen’s squad, but on the basis of this performance away to Rangers, they still have a way to go if they want to compete at the top of the league. In truth, it could have been worse for the Flying Horsemen when ten minutes before the end of play, Wong Chun Hin did brilliantly to keep an attacking move alive to set up youngster Tse Long Hin who gleefully struck the ball into the back of the net. Pegasus did strike back quickly, however, and just two minutes later Joao Emir Porto Perreira got onto the end of a Lee Ka Ho cross to take a share of the spoils in a 1:1 draw. Rangers certainly look a more assured side this season, but it will be Pegasus who are left to rue their missed chances in their opening match. (Full match report by Jacob Panons)
YUEN LONG 6:2 HONG KONG FC
STADIUM: Yuen Long Stadium
Despite Hong Kong FC‘s promotion back to the top flight, Richard Ewart’s men were given a sour reminder from Yuen Long that life in the big time requires big performances. It was truthfully a woeful defensive display that capitulated early after Serbian striker Aleksandar Randelovic put the Tangerines ahead after heading home from a corner. Paul Hampshire restored parity midway through the first half after captain Gergely Gheczy took advantage of a defensive mix up too tee him up to guide the ball past Pang Tsz Kin, but a minute later Yuen Long were back in front after Hong Kong FC’s defense completely failed to deal with a ball in the box that allowed Tam Lok Hin to roll the ball into the net. It got worse for the away side just four minutes later, when Yip Tsz Chun was allowed far too much time and space to place the ball in the bottom corner to make it 3:1, and the back line was breached again four minutes after the restart when Yiu Ho Ming darted through into the area to get on the end of a through ball and furthered his side’s lead. Yip Tsz Chun then bagged his brace with a thumping effort from just outside of the 18 yard box, though Jerome De Clarens did at least make the scoreline seem slightly kinder after he met a cross into the box with a powerful header to make it 5:2. The rout was completed, however, three minutes from the end of time as new boy Diego Higino capped off his debut with an excellent run and cool finish to seal an emphatic win for Yuen Long. Hong Kong FC, it seems, have their work cut out. (Full match report by Mark Hampson)
SOUTH CHINA 1:0 SAPLING
STADIUM: Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground
With one of the biggest transfer budgets of the summer, it is perhaps a surprise to see that South China have not added to their squad as much as expected, and were made to work for their win against an uninspiring yet solid-looking Sapling side. Still, it was one of their new additions, Nikola Komazec, who grabbed what proved to be the winner for the Caroliners ten minutes before the end of the first half, after Mahama Awal had skillfully worked his way into the boxto deliver a low cross and leave the Serbian with the simplest of tap-ins. With South China’s quarter final tie with Johor Darul Ta’zim (MLY) on the horizon, Ricardo Rambo’s men will have to take their game up a notch if they are to prevail.
KITCHEE 3:1 SOUTHERN
STADIUM: Mong Kok Stadium
With a plethora of impressive new signings and an AFC Champions League campaign to look forward to, it is perhaps easy to see why Kitchee are considered favourites to retake the Premier League crown this season. That said, Southern are certainly no pushovers and the bluewaves were unable to kill off their opponents for almost the entire match. Things started well enough for Chu Chi Kwok’s side when Alex Akande slotted the ball home from Lam Zhi Gin’s clever pass just before half time, but Diego Garrido Garcia equalised for Southern midway into the second half with an accurate header from a corner. The game looked to be heading for a stalemate, but with two minutes to go disaster struck for the visitors, and Tomas Maronesi bundled the ball into his own net from a Matthew Lam free-kick. The points were then sealed in injury time, as Jared Lum did well to lose his marker and rifled the ball past Tse Tak Him to secure a 3:1 win. They do say, ‘the mark of a champion is to win when you don’t play at your best’.
HONG KONG PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE (Round 1 – August 26th, 27th 28th)
|Position||Team||Game||Win||Draw||Loss||Goal Gain||Goal Loss||Goal Diff||Point|
|11||Hong Kong FC||1||0||0||1||2||6||-4||0|