January 31st (Day 1)
Semi-Final: FC Tokyo 1 Sporting Clube Olhanense 1 (Olhanense win 5-6 on penalties)
Semi-Final: PFC Krylia Sovetov Samara FC 2 Citizen Cuenca United 2 (Citizen Cuenca United win 4-2 on penalties)
Attendance – 12,174
After two days of thrilling competition, Citizen Cuenca United, a combined team with players from both Citizen FC (HK) and Cuenca (Ecuador), were crowned champions of the Lunar New Year AET Cup 2014. This year’s organizers managed to bring a strong line up of teams to Hong Kong including the J-League side, FC Tokyo; Portuguese side, Sporting Clube Olhanense and Russian side, PFC Krylia Sovetov Samara FC. The annual showpiece had lost its glamor in the last few years though the high tempo action and decent attendances bodes well for the future.
Following tradition, the semi-finals were played on the first day of Chinese new year (January 31st) at Hong Kong stadium and a decent crowd of 12,174 basked in the warm weather to witness two absorbing matches which both ended in the lottery of penalty shoot-outs. Backed by ardent and boisterous die-hard fans who had flown in from Japan, FC Tokyo dominated their game against Olhanense. There was a clear gulf in the skills and tactics with the J-League team being audacious and adventurous in their attacks. There was also a clear gap in the finances and management style of the teams, FC Tokyo had at least twenty staff (players, physios, trainers, kitmen) on their bench while Olhanense had about three! Nevertheless, Olhanense defended resolutely against the endless waves of attacks and totally against the run of play, took a surprise lead through a disputed penalty. The spot kick was coolly dispatched by Colucci with expert precision in the 52nd minute.
Unfortunately for Olhanense, this sparked FC Tokyo to step up another gear and Edu, their well traveled Brazilian striker came on to bolster their attack. The pressure paid off and in the 67th minute, Mita blasted home the equalizer. The Japanese side went on to control the rest of the game and had several notable chances to close out the match but wasted endless chances. The contest went straight into a shoot out and despite struggling to stay in contention for the entire 90 minutes of play, Olhanense came out trumps 6-5 in the shoot out and booked their place in the final. The FC Tokyo players were understandably downtrodden and disheartened but had the class to concede defeat with grace. The FC Tokyo fans simply kept on singing their heroes off the pitch and the players duly acknowledged their loyal fans with bows and applause.
The second match up saw Citizen Cuenca United take on the favorites, PFC Krylia Sovetov Samara. The Russian team raced into a comfortable 2-0 lead following a penalty by Caballero in the 33rd minute and a strike from Pavlenko in the 70th minute. The match it seemed was all but sealed until Citizen Cuenca staged an incredible comeback with two goals in injury time. First, Detinho, a Hong Kong cult figure pulled one back with a stunning volley; then deep into added time, Citizen Cuenca launched one final attack and won a free kick on the edge of the area. With the entire stadium urging him to shoot, Marko Krasic fired the ball straight at the wall but the subsequent deflection rolled into the goal. Citizen Cuenca had staged a breathtaking comeback! The local hosts won their penalty shoot out 4-2 and the stage was set for the final.
Final: Citizen Cuenca United 2 Sporting Clube Olhanense 0
3rd Place playoff: PFC Krylia Sovetov Samara FC 1 FC Tokyo 0
On the second day of competition, FC Tokyo took on Samara for third place. Again the FC Tokyo fans were out in large numbers and sang throughout the game. Many of the local supporters were backing the J-league team and each attack by the Japanese team was met with great anticipation. Again, FC Tokyo dominated the game with their sleek fluid style of play but it was Samara who scored the winner with a crisp drive from Adzhindhal in the 46th minute. The Japanese side who had promised so much went home emptied handed while Samara received a cheque for USD20,000 for their troubles.
The final saw Citizen Cuenca take on Olhanense in a gripping and tightly fought match. Sham Kwok Keung placed the home team in front in the 16th minute after running onto a long ball and dispatched it cleanly to give Citzen Cuenca a well deserved 1-0 lead. This gave Citizen Cuenca the confidence to press on for title. Victory was virtually sealed when just after the second half, Yuto Nakamura, was pulled down in the penalty box after a surging run from midfield to the byline. Marko Krasic stepped up to take the penalty and hit it low; the keeper saved but Krasic immediately pounced on the rebound to bury it home. The opposition players simply were not quick enough to respond and after riding their luck for so long to get to the final, it simply ran out. The home fans erupted and the Citizen fans simply went borderline nuts!
Citizen Cuenca United then stoutly defended until the end yet were incisive enough to launch counter attacks to try to grab yet another goal. Upon the final whistle, the home team were presented with the Lunar New Year AET Cup 2014 trophy and the winner’s US$80,000 (HK$620,000) cheque. This rounded off two days of entertaining matches and the Hong Kong fans went home happy and satisfied.
Christopher KL Lau is a freelance writer who was born in England and now works in Hong Kong.
All pictures courtesy of Chris KL Lau. He has figured out twitter and can be found here: https://twitter.com/Chris_KL_Lau
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