After two rounds of league fixtures, Hong Kong top-flight football shifted focus to the Cup final over the weekend as Sapling Cup was staged on Sunday, September 27th, at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground. The first trophy of the year belonged to Kitchee after beating Southern 3-1, with goals from Matthew Orr, Wellingsson de Souza, and Barack Braunshtain.
With the confidence of Kitchee’s youth products, Alex Chu penciled in a total of eight U22 players in the roster, half of them to start the contest. The most notable one had to be 18-year-old Chan Shinichi, who became the team’s regular left-winger at mid-season. Southern countered with three U22 players on the pitch at kickoff. Choy Tsz-to, 21, received the tough assignment of taking over veteran Tse Tak-him at goals.
At the beginning, the Bluewaves were hunger for a goal, applying constant pressure at the opposition’s backfield. The first shot of the game belonged to Law Tsz-chun, who tested the goalkeeper from 18 yards outside. Choy was hands full on several occasions but the Aberdeeners managed to contain their rivals for a good portion in the first half.
The first goal of the final came 35th minute into the match via penalty. Chan Shinichi was knocked down by Christopher Chung in the box. Matthew Orr converted the spot-kick with a clinical finish. Nonetheless, despite a more passive approach, Southern equalized right before half-time as Roberto Fronza headed in the tying goal on Paco Chan’s pin-point free-kick.
Midway through the second half, Kitchee restored a one-goal advantage. Chan Shinichi took advantage of Kota Kawase’s sluggish clearing effort with a one-timer. Although the shot was initially blocked, Wellingsson De Souza, who came in as a substitute, tallied the rebound at close range, making it 2-1.
Midfielder Braunshtain scored an insurance goal at the business end of the contest. His magnificent free-kick towards the top right corner of the goal had no mercy on the goalkeeper.
The outcome of the match was a deja-vu as these two teams collided in the 2018-19 FA Cup final, with Kitchee winning it all at the end. Now back on top of the podium, Kitchee continued a streak of hoisting at least one Cup in the past five seasons. And they became the only team to win Sapling Cup twice since it was introduced to a local competition for the first time during the 2015-16 season.
On the other hand, it was another sour moment for Southern, who would have to wait longer for the first title in their club history.
The match MVP belonged to Chan Shinichi, who said in the postgame media interview that he was excited to win the personal award as this was his first year to fully integrate into the team and to help the teams’ victory from the beginning to the very end.
After completing their only Cup mission of the year, Kitchee will now concentrate on the Premier League again. Their next match will be crucial for contention as they face R&F this coming Thursday behind closed doors at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground.