Eastern extended their points lead at the top of the Hong Kong Premier League after a gripping and frantic 4-3 win over bitter rivals, South China at Mong Kok stadium.
With the game tied at 3-3 in injury time, a draw was inevitable until Eastern’s late winner which meant Eastern could pull even further ahead of closet challengers, Kitchee. With around four rounds left of the HKPL, Eastern are in a favourable position to retain their title and only a serious lapse would allow Kitchee back in the league title race; interestingly Eastern will play Kitchee in the final day of the season on May 6th though the title could be settled even before then.
The win was made all the more poignant as Eastern’s Bai He scored the critical winner in injury time. Bai He was in the sporting news in Hong Kong for placing himself out of future selection for the national team after not being included in the latest Hong Kong squad for their upcoming Asian Cup qualifier away game against Lebanon. The win has left Eastern with 42 points whilst Kitchee have 36 points with a game in hand.
Eastern and South China facing each other will always be a fiery occasion and again it proved to be so with the game being played at a frenzied pace and the tackles going in thick and fast. Eastern’s Bai He scored twice whilst Lugo and Da Silva also added crucial goals for Eastern in a see saw game where Eastern were never behind in terms of the score despite South China’s brave attempts to keep coming back. South China began their belated fightback after an own goal from Eastern’s Tsang Kam To, which was deflected off a Nikola Komazec shot.
Further goals from South China’s Marko Periovic and Bojan Malisic eventually drew the game level at 3-3 with virtually no time left on the clock.
Despite the end to end excitement, both teams revealed some defensive fragility and lapses of concentration cost South China dearly as Bai He popped up at the end to score the winning goal to devastate South China and their fans. This game has proven to be one of the matches of the season so far.
Eastern did suffer a set back with the injury of their first choice goalkeeper Yapp Hung Fai who gave way to back up goalkeeper Ho Kwok Chuen in the second half. Yapp briefly commented on his injury at the end of the game:
“The injury is not that serious but I can’t really exert power.” (Translated)
Eastern’s Roberto briefly gave his view on whether or not this vital Eastern win would guarantee the title:
“Of course, it was a very good three points against South China who are a strong team and this will give us more confidence for the end of the season for sure.”
Nikola Komazec spoke of his disappointment at the result especially after South China’s heroic fightback in the second half.
“It was very disappointing today. From the time I have joined South China, this is the best game I have played in. We gave everything and we showed today, we can play some good football and Eastern are a really good team though we showed today that Eastern are not a better team than us. Eastern won but we showed we have a really good team and now it is hard to gain first place in the league but next year, I am sure South China will be first.”
Kitchee kept themselves in contention with a 5-1 win over Rangers and will have to hope that Eastern will drop vital points in the run in to the end of the season. In other news, the Hong Kong national team will travel away to play a friendly against Jordan on March 23rd before taking on Lebanon on March 28th in their opening group B Asian Cup qualifier. Hong Kong will also face Malaysia and North Korea in what is probably the toughest qualifying group in the Asian Cup draw.
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