One of the trendiest and recognisable football teams in the world returned to Hong Kong in trumphiant fashion with a win over local powerhouses, South China. This was the legendary Cosmos first trip to Hong Kong since 1979 and they proved to be excellent ambassadors on and off the pitch as they sought to win a whole new legion of fans in Hong Kong.
The New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) were invited to take part in the annual AET Lunar New Year Cup which is normally a four team tournament over two days but this year was a straight forward single match to decide the winners.
The organizers had made ticket prices very reasonably priced and even gave away 5000 tickets to disadvantaged families (including many young children) to ensure a decent turnout for the game.
The main draw was of course former Real Madrid and Spanish national team legend, Raul, who along with another former Spain international, Senna, added much star quality and glamour to the tie. This would mark Raul’s first match as a Cosmos player so the Cosmos global following tuned in from around the world to monitor the game via TV and the internet.
The excellent marketing of the game and the lower concession prices ensured a healthy 19,522 attendance; normally the first day of Chinese New Year is the busiest day of the festivities so the New York Cosmos definitely had generated enough buzz and excitement to boost the number of punters through the gates. The game was also broadcast on the Hong Kong’s largest TV channel (TVB) so many watched from the comfort of their own homes.
Those in the stadium were treated to an a well-balanced and tight game which saw South China take the lead twice much to the delight of the home crowd. The Cosmos showing their true grit and resillence to level the game and take the game into penalties. There were chances for both sides early on and Raul was instrumental with his quick thinking and passes which opened up several early chances for the Cosmos.
The game was pretty much evenly matched but it was South China who broke through earliest (19th minute) with the the impressive Awal Mahama blazing down the right wing to deliver a cross to Lo Kong Wai whose effort hit the post before the quick thinking Chan Siu-Ki slotted home the rebound to give them a much-deserved 1-0 lead. Each time Awal Mahama had the ball the stadium held it’s breath in anticipation as he tore down the wing.
South China’s lead was short lived as Guenzatti of the Cosmos launched himself into a flying scissors kick which proved to be unstoppable thus leaving the scored tied at 1-1 and with all to play for.
The first half proved to be fast paced and frenetic but the game seemed to slow down to a calmer tempo in the second half.
Again, it was Awal Mahama who proved to be the decisive player and it was his tenacity and persistance in the 66th minute when he refused to give up which saw him fire in at the near post past the Cosmos keeper James Maurer. South China were again ahead and deservedly so.
Raul was still pivotal to the game’s flow and he nearly made his dream debut when his header crashed onto the bar in the 76th minute of the game. Andres Flores dragged the Cosmos back into the game when his deflected shot looped over and into the South China goal.
It was 2-2 with the game drawing to a close and there were little to no chances left in regulation time so the game was to be decided by the gauntlet of penalties.
During the shoot-out, goalkeeper James Maurer proved to be the hero for the Cosmos while Raul had the chance to score for the Cosmos with his penalty which was expertly taken.
The Cosmos ended up winning the shoot-out 4-2 and took home the AET Lunar New Year Cup. The greatest victory though was the New York Cosmos winning over a whole new set of fans in Hong Kong.
The match also allowed the older generation of Hong Kong fans to reminisce about the good old days of Hong Kong football in the seventies when the game peaked and the coolest team in the world rolled into town.
Veterans of Historic 1985 World Cup Win Over China Relieve Memories
Nostalgia was in the air at the AET Lunar New Year Cup with veterans of the one of Hong Kong’s greatest international wins taking on a squad of South China veterans.
Members of the 1985 Hong Kong then colonial team, which defeated China in Beijing to derail China’s dream of making the 1986 world cup, were feted and lauded at Hong Kong stadium for their efforts 30 years ago.
The famous (or infamous in China) match at the Workers Stadium ended up with the first major incidences of football hooliganism in China and the resignation of both Zeng Xuelin, the manager at the time and Li Fenglou, chairman of the Chinese Football Association.
Hong Kong then faced Japan in the next round but fell 5-1 on overall aggregate score. For the friendly game, sadly the years had taken their toll and the 1985 team were defeated by the South China team.
Kitchee Out of Asian Champions League
Kitchee have been knocked out the Asian Champions League after a heavy defeat in Thailand by Chonburi FC. Brazilian Leandro Assumpcao ran riot and scored a hat-trick which put paid to Kitchee dreams of joining the big boys in the final group stages; they now will enter the AFC Cup where they reached the semi-final stages last year. In the Hong Kong Premier League, Eastern still lead the table with two games in hand.
All pictures courtesy of Christopher KL Lau
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