If local fans missed the traditional Senior Shield games over Christmas, they can expect a little treat for the upcoming holidays. Kitchee and Eastern square off at Mong Kok Stadium on 11 February, the second day of the Lunar New Year, in this season’s Senior Shield Final.
The Senior Shield is one of the oldest football tournaments in Asia, with the first edition taking place in 1895, when Kowloon beat a team from HMS Centurion 3-0 to become the inaugural winners. The 2023/24 finalists are Eastern and Kitchee, who with eleven and eight Senior Shield victories respectively are second and fourth on the all-time winners list (South China way out in front with 31). The final also returns to Mong Kok Stadium, which both sides currently use as home ground.
For the fourth time in the last decade, rivals Kitchee and Eastern meet in the Senior Shield final, with Kitchee winning two of the three encounters, including last season on penalties. Besides, Kitchee are still unbeaten against Eastern since February 2021, and despite not meeting in the Premier League so far this season, Kitchee won 5-0 in the Hong Kong Premier League Cup semifinal in December.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kitchee go into the match as favourites, having thrashed RCFC 7-0 in the quarterfinal, followed by a 1-0 win over Lee Man in the semifinal, in a game that saw eleven yellow cards. Brazilian attacking midfielder Mikael has scored fifteen goals in all competitions, and is one of many attacking options. There is also plenty of big game experience amongst the squad, with the majority having been a part of last season’s treble success. Goalkeeper Paulo has been sidelined with a knee problem since November, but is in contention for his first appearance this year.
Eastern are certainly the underdogs for this Senior Shield final, and were pegged back twice by Southern in their quarterfinal, before winning 3-2 in extra time. Their semifinal was a more comfortable 3-0 win over Rangers. Spanish-Ghanaian striker Noah Baffoe has scored eleven goals in all competitions up front, and will need to be in top form if Eastern are to have any chance. Despite containing a squad with two Asian Cup captains (Yapp Hung-fai for Hong Kong and Kozybayev for Kyrgyzstan), Eastern may have an extremely young team, but also one with a lot of potential in the foreseeable future.
Preparations for this year are slightly different, with there being no Premier League fixtures since December, and only a handful of Sapling Cup matches. The Asian Cup, Guangdong-HK Cup and the HK League XI fixture with Inter Miami have meant training schedules have been disrupted in the build up to this match.
Nonetheless, there probably couldn’t be a better time for a Senior Shield final, especially in the absence of a Lunar New Year Cup.
The match will kick off on Sunday, 11 February, at 3 pm at Mong Kok Stadium. Tickets are available at the HKFA offices on 6-9 February, and from 1:30 pm onwards at the gates.