Tai Po finished off their fantastic season with an emphatic finish on Sunday afternoon, May 19th, crushing Dreams underfoot with three unanswered goals to cap off a fairy-tale season for the district club.
Prior to the start of the game, the club honored their supporters by playing a fan team against a Nike Selection team, to great fanfare. After the friendly, the Greens emerged on the home pitch to raucous screams of “Campiones” from 2,088 spectators. Under the blazing sun, the game eagerly got underway.
Dreams had a very early chance, as Poon Pak-on weaved his way into the box, but he badly skewed his shot out the byline to the right. Again, Tai Po were a little slow to react at the beginning and should have been punished. But the champions weathered the early probes and went ahead before the ten minute mark. Igor Sartori crossed into the box from the left. Toby Down took a crack at the falling ball, but skimmed the bottom of the ball. The leather sailed back into the box, headed backwards by another Dreams defender, to where Fung Hing-wa was waiting, and the centre-back squared home. A moment of hesitation, as the linesman’s flag was raised for offside, but main referee Gigi Law overruled her colleague as it was a Dreams defender who inadvertently passed to Fung, and Tai Po was in the lead.
The goal settled the home side’s nerves, who would begin to dominate the game from then to the finish. Lee Ka-yiu, João Emir, and Toby Down all looked dangerous, testing Dreamers keeper Tse Ka-wing from all over the final third. Down, in particular, looked imperious in the center of the park, dictating Tai Po’s offensive tempo with his passing ,while breaking down promising Black-and-Pink attempts.
Dreams did score right before the stroke of halftime, however, as Marcos Gondra stooped low to nod home Lam Hin-ting’s long pass, but the visitors couldn’t make any subsequent attacks count, as the ball just wouldn’t stay down and Tsang Man-fai in the home goal was playing like a man possessed.
Tai Po regained the lead as the game neared the 80th minute. Yuen Chi-lun’s long throw into the visiting box was met with the head of substitute Eduardo Praes. The defender’s shot cannoned off the crossbar. Players from both team swarmed the box, but Praes got there first, fired the ball into the ground, and it trickled past everyone into the right hand corner of the goal. Jubilation erupted in the stands, as the players rushed to the corner flag to celebrate. It seems the New Territories side have finally swept their hoodoo against Dreams under the rug.
Sandro would put the icing on the cake for the Greens, as he extended the lead to 3-1. Chung Wai-keung worked himself beautifully into the area from the left and passed to the lanky striker, who initially smashed the post. A Dreams clearance was intercepted by Lugo, who unleashed his own fierce drive, only to be denied sharply by Tse Ka-wing. Unfortunately, for the young keeper, his parry would bounce to Sandro again, who weaved past the last black-clad defender and scored. The best ever ending to the season was written, and the party truly got underway as the whistle signaled the end of regular time.
Tai Po were awarded their first Premier League title trophy, and were soon applauded onto their parade buses by the fans present. As the bus traveled through the district, the cheers of “Campiones, campiones, ole ole ole” could be heard from the stadium, through the marketplace and into the heart of the city centre. The players were beside themselves with party spirit during the meet-and-greet with the Tai Po locals, pouring beer into the trophy and dancing to the music of Praes’ boombox.
After bidding farewell to the crowd, a small selection of fans, players and their families joined the club for a BBQ party in Tai Mei Tuk, the traditional celebration grounds for the team after seasons. The club thanked the players and the fans for their dedication and hard work, and pledged that no matter what next year has in store, everyone associated past, present and future will continue to move forward as one. Tai Po’s football dream is far, far from over.
Once again, let us congratulate this year’s Champions of the Hong Kong Premier League, Tai Po FC!