Kitchee accomplished their second treble in as many seasons by defending their FA Cup title on the last day of the season – Saturday, May 26th, edging out Tai Po in the final by a score of 2-1 at Hong Kong Stadium, which was filled with only 3,044 spectators.
Coincidentally, the match almost took the same course as the Sapling Cup final one week earlier, when the league champions eventually defeated the Greens with an identical score line. This time, the two late goals came from Alex Akande and Jared Lum, while Igor Sartori’s tally from behind almost sparked a rally for the losing side.
The scoreless deadlock was broken in the 73rd minute, when Lam Zhi-gin’s through pass on the right found Lum, whose cross into the six-yard box was easily headed in by the unmarked Akande. Only five minutes later, the Bluewaves earned a direct free-kick 20 yards away from goal, and Lum struck it wonderfully over a five-man wall to beat Li Hon-ho via the top right corner. Jared Lum was later awarded “Man of the Match”.
With eight minutes remaining in regular time, Tai Po cut the deficit to half, thanks to Sartori finding the back of the net after a one-two with captain Wong Wai. However, they came up short in the end, although an extra five minutes of injury time were added.
The match was played in the steaming hot afternoon – with temperatures reaching almost 35°C – and the weather played a role in the players’ performance, as both sides struggled to find clear-cut opportunities. On top of that, the Greens put more emphasis on their defense in an attempt to leash Kitchee’s attacking capabilities.
The Bluewaves could probably have taken an early lead midway through the first half with two big chances. However, Paulinho’s header from close range missed the target. Later he was denied by Tai Po goalkeeper Li Hon-ho, who saved his penalty, after a soft call from the referee.
On the other end, Guo Juanqiao, who made an emergency start for Wang Zhenpeng after he had suffered a leg injury during warm-up, was rarely tested except for Wong Wai’s free-kick six minutes after the kickoff. Strikers Sartori and Dhiego Martins, whom coach Lee Chi-kin chose to start over David Lazari, struggled to threaten the opposition.
Alex Chu’s substitutions were clearly more effective by entering Akande in the 69th minute to replace Paulinho. It took Akande just four minutes after the entry to put his name on the score sheet.
For the third consecutive weekend, Kitchee were crowned again on the stage of Hong Kong’s top-flight competitions, hoisting the FA Cup for the fifth time in their past seven years. It was also reportedly the last match for Lam Ka-wai and Lo Kwan-yee. Especially for captain Lo the FA Cup final turned into an emotional day, as he is set to leave Kitchee after more than 250 games and 11 years with the club.
Photos by Ken Wu