Auckland City triumphed 1-0 against hosts Kitchee in a flowing, sometimes rousing encounter at Hong Kong Stadium on Tuesday – the fourth day of the Lunar New Year. Match report by Matt Worth, photos by Rex Fok, Jeremy Greenberg, Ryan Kam, Christopher KL Lau. Kitchee were for periods the better side, and were certainly the more confident users of the ball in the early part of the game. It was against the run of play that Auckland took the lead on 22 minutes, with the goal from Clayton Lewis that ultimately settled the game. Thereafter the hosts continued to see plenty of possession, but were unable to break through.
Kitchee set themselves up narrow, with a front three initially led by Sandro. Their calmness of possession and ability to switch the play tested Auckland several times in the early exchanges, particularly long balls into the forward channels. The Hong Kong side were the first to seriously threaten goal, Joao Emir striking the crossbar in the seventh minute with a whipped free kick.
Auckland took a wider shape than their opponents, and it was their running game that was first to bear fruit; Emiliano Tade looked to have run himself into a corner on the left, but his scuffed cross-shot found midfielder Lewis at the far post to tap home.
For the home representatives it was thereafter a familiar tale. Despite considerable enterprise and energy, Kitchee lacked a rapier quality in attack, the ability to break the defensive line or get shots on target. Sandro had a disappointing game, as did his replacement Rufino, the latter wasteful with a good chance on the half-volley midway through the second period. It was perhaps Kitchee’s best chance to equalise. Half-time substitute Lo Kwan Yee was the hosts’ best player, seemingly omnipresent in defence, midfield and attack.This year’s tournament should count as a qualified success in the drive to revitalise the Lunar New Year Cup, which only last year looked set to be cancelled for the first time in its 33 years. With big ticket sponsorship and three prestigious overseas clubs in attendance, the tournament vindicated Kitchee’s decision to host and – although low-scoring – provided, in the final at least, some lively entertainment. A solid if unspectacular crowd of 8,588 on the final day – more than twice a typical attendance for a top Hong Kong club game – demonstrated that the cup still holds interest for local fans.
Photos from the Nike Lunar New Year Cup 2017 from Rex Fok, Jeremy Greenberg, Ryan Kam, Christopher KL Lau