January 15th will be the day that 2016 Macau Elite League kicks off. Once again 10 teams will play in Macau’s top division. Benfica Macau are the defending champions. Macau U-23 were relegated last season whilst Kei Lun were promoted from the 2nd Division.
Benfica de Macau will be the first team to enter the field on Friday against Policia. The current champions have appointed a new Portuguese coach, Henrique Nunes, and they have signed three players from Ka I – Christopher Nwaru (with local ID), Ricardo Torrao (local ID) and Alison Britotwo – as well as two from Portugal – Bernardo Marques and Filipe Aguiar. Despite these newcomers, Benfica de Macau have lost a lot of important figures from last season – Juary and Luisinho returned to Portugal, and William Gomes, Fabricio Lima, Adilson Silva and Tang Hou Fai have joined Ka I.
This first match will also be a stern test for new coach Henrique Nunes, facing a team that can cause trouble with their defensive game plan. Henrique is still adapting to the reality of Macau football as he told TDM radio: “It’s not been easy (the transition). I’m facing a new reality with different conditions and structures compared to what I’m used to in Portugal.”
Benfica de Macau also signed four local players from the Macau U-23 team (Lo Kuan Io, Wu Pak Wai, Wu Pak Lam and Joel Silva), all young local players. “This year the squad will have less foreigners than last season. But I believe that the experience of coach Henrique Nunes will provide a good message to local players whilst also giving a boost to the foreign players”, Benfica de Macau team manager Duarte Alves told TDM radio.
2015 runners-up Ka I have retained their head coach, but have also hired a lot of new faces. Besides the four players from Benfica, Ka I also signed Timba and Chan Pak Chun from Sporting Macau, Ching Fong from Monte Carlo and Bruno Pacheco. Ka I will begin this season against newly promoted Kei Lun on Saturday, January 16th, in what is predicted to be one of their easier early matches that they can’t afford to loose.
The match between Monte Carlo and Chao Pak Kei (C.P.K.) is definitely the highlight of the 1st round. Both teams have big ambitions to win the title and will be desperate to start the new season with a victory. Monte Carlo have a new Brazilian coach, Claudio Roberto, and five new foreign players, four from Brazil (Anderson Ribas, Jullyan Duarte, Jackson Sousa and Amarildo Risto) and Jorginho from Portugal.
“Due to their historical legacy, Monte Carlo will always aim for the top positions. The Macau league obviously has teams with similar ambitions. We believe that during the competition we will grow from match to match and develop as a team, so our expectations are very positive.”, said Monte Carlo coach Claudio Roberto in an interview with TDM radio.
C.P.K. on the other hand have only hired three new players, two from Monte Carlo, Domingos Chan and Lo Chin Fong, and one from Ka I, Ronieli Nascimento. The rest of the team as well as the coach remain the same.
Sporting Macau is the last team of the “Big 5” to start the new season with a game on Sunday, January 17th against Lai Chi. Sporting have signed four players from Portugal (Hugo Cardoso, Vitor Almeida, Júnior Soares and Pio Júnior) and 5 players from other Macanese teams, including Taylor Gomes (from Ka I), João Ramos, Miguel Botelho, Rafael Bastardo and Duarte Pinheiro Torres (all from Casa de Portugal).
Sporting Macau had a disappointing last season, and so they face big pressure to do better this year. Therefore, anything other than a win in their first game would be unacceptable.
Sporting Macau coach João Pegado told Tribuna de Macau newspaper that “we need to start the season with good results, because the Macau Elite league is very short. One defeat in the begining can demoralize the team and it could be very difficult to recover from that. We need to focus on defending.”
Last but not least, Casa de Portugal will face Chuac Lun on Saturday with both teams predicted to be among the relegation candidates this year, so it will be a very important match for both and an indicator as to who has the better chance of remaining in the league.
The 2016 Macau Elite League will be a very interesting competition, with all “big five” teams having invested a lot into new foreign players. Benfica Macau and Ka I are the two biggest contenders, but Sporting, C.P.K. and Monte Carlo will no doubt be wanting to show their value on the pitch and take the title home.
Photo: courtesy of Benfica Macau (Facebook)