Last season’s Chinese FA Cup finalists and CSL 2nd runners-up Shandong Luneng won this year’s Lunar New Year Cup after beating Auckland City 2-1 in the semi-final and later overcoming J League side Sagan Tosu. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s League XI lost to Sagan Tosu on penalties on the first day, but managed to beat Auckland in the 3rd-place playoff .
Day 1 – 5 Feb 2019
Shandong Luneng 2-1 Auckland City
Auckland City, despite being expected to lose the opening match, showed confidence in the first half and had several chances to score, but failed to beat Wang Dalei. Shandong also tested Auckland City’s Enaut Zubikarai with a few shots from outside the box, but the former Real Sociedad keeper dealt with them easily. As a result, the first half ended with neither team able to score.
Just a minute after the match restarted, a lapse in concentration by Shandong defenders allowed Auckland City forward Micah Lea’Alafa to beat Wang Dalei in a one-on-one situation, giving the Navy Blues a narrow lead. However, that lasted only for about ten minutes, until Roger Guedes curled a stunning free kick over the wall to equalise for Shandong in the 57th minute.
Afterwards, Auckland City played with caution, retaining possession and with little attempts on goal. Defensively, the Navy Blues were excellent in marking Shandong star striker Graziano Pelle, so his chances were limited. As a penalty shootout was imminent, Zubikarai parried Zhang Chi’s shot, which fell into the path of Roger Guedes who finished from close range, winning the match for Luneng.
Hong Kong League XI 1-1 (2-4 pen.) Sagan Tosu
The Hong Kong League XI surprised many and played lively in the first half, creating a number of chances. However, Kevin Bond’s men failed to beat Takuo Okubo. Meanwhile, Fernando Torres, arguably the main star of this tournament, received a beautiful pass from Cuenca Lopez to finish from close range, giving Sagan Tosu the lead in the first half.
In the second half, Torres was subbed off, much to the dismay of the spectators. Sagan Tosu changed to a possession play, which limited the chances for the League XI. Nonetheless, the selection equalized in the 77th minute, when Chan Siu-ki’s cross found Wellingsson de Souza at first, but fell to Pegasus’ Juninho who finished from close range.
Both sides failed to register more goals, so the match went straight to penalties to decide the winners. All Sagan Tosu players scored, but Lazari and De Souza missed for the League XI, meaning the J League side advanced to the finals.
Day 2 – 7 Feb 2019
Hong Kong League XI 1-0 Auckland City
The League XI started with a new attacking mentality into the game for 3rd place, but Auckland City managed to hold their line. Mahama Awal and Wellingsson de Souza were active on both flanks, but not much chances were created. Instead, Auckland City nearly got the lead after Leung Nok-hang tripped Auckland City’s Maro Bonsu-Maro at the edge of the box, for which a penalty was awarded. The hosts protested, insisting the foul may have been outside the box. Nevertheless, Fabrizio Tavano’s subsequent penalty was saved by 36-year-old Zhang Chunhui. Soon after, on the other end of the pitch, a failed clearance by Brian Kaltak gifted the ball to Mahama Awal, who put it past Zubikarai to give the League XI a narrow lead after 45 minutes.
In the second half, probably a result of long-distance travel and a tight fixtures schedule, Auckland City looked increasingly tired. Nonetheless, they created a handful of chances. Dylan Manickum used his pace to dribble past Fran Gonzalez, but his shot was held by Zhang Chunhui. The Hong Kong League XI also had several opportunities, but Juninho’s close range effort, following a Fernando free kick, went wide. The New Zealand side continued to look for an equalizer, but the hosts defended well to deny the Navy Blues a goal. As a result, the League XI finished the Lunar New Year Cup on the respectable 3rd place.
Sagan Tosu 1-3 Shandong Luneng
Shandong had a bright start into the final, when Gil headed in from close range after a corner, just three minutes into the game. After that, Sagan Tosu were in control of the match, but their passing accuracy was poor in the final third, which limited their opportunities to get an equalizer. Meanwhile, the encounter got a little bit ill-tempered, as both sides were involved in some rough challenges. Heated arguments erupted and the referee was forced to caution a number of players.
The second half began in similar fashion, when Shandong scored just five minutes after the restart. Duan Liuyu’s cross found Graziano Pelle, who put the ball into the lower right corner. Sagan Tosu responded in the 59th minute, when Cuenca Lopez’s cross found Kazuk Anzai, whose header was blocked by Wang Dalei, but Fernando Torres managed to follow up with a close range header to equalize for the J League side.
The match continued with its explosive manner, and the referee was forced to issue a number of yellow cards in hope of calming things down. Meanwhile, Yuta Higuchi’s long range effort was fabulously saved by Wang Dalei. In the 81st minute, Pedro Delgado extended the lead for Shandong to 3-1 after a failed clearance by Teruki Hara, which allowed the Portuguese midfielder to finish from close range.
Things got out of hand as the match came closer to an end, and the referee was forced to send off Cui Peng for a second yellow booking that night. However, the score remained unchanged and Shandong were crowned the winners of the 2019 Lunar New Year Cup.
Kevin Bond, head coach for Hong Kong’s League XI, is also one of the contenders for the head coach position of the Hong Kong national team. He previously refused to comment on whether he would be a potential successor of Gary White, and said before the competition as well as after the first match that he solely focused on the Lunar New Year Cup for now.
However, when asked again after the competition finished, Kevin Bond admitted that he is interested in the position. “I believe I am in a good position, because I know all the teams and I know the coaches. I know the majority of the players. You can see from the last five or six days, with a couple of results and performances, that we managed to be organised, were difficult to beat and posed problems. So all around it was an excellent experience.”
Kevin Bond was also confident that he was the right man for the job. “We will wait and see. Only time will tell, but I believe I have the right credentials. I know the people here, what they stand for. I know the strength and weaknesses of Hong Kong football and the players, and I believe I am equipped to get the best out of this squad.”
Shandong Luneng 2-1 Auckland City (February 5th, 4pm, Hong Kong Stadium; Attendance: 14502)
Hong Kong League XI 1-1 (2-4 pen.) Sagan Tosu (February 5th, 6:30pm, Hong Kong Stadium; Attendance: 14502)
Hong Kong League XI 1-0 Auckland City (February 7th, 4pm, Hong Kong Stadium; Attendance: 21643)
Sagan Tosu 1-3 Shandong Luneng (February 7th, 6:30pm, Hong Kong Stadium; Attendance: 21643)
Photo gallery by Zinc Yeung, Ken Wu, and Christopher KL Lau