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Hong Kong fans jeer Chinese team as Shandong Luneng Lift Lunar New Year Cup

A fiery game between Shandong and Sagan Tosu. Photo from Eric Li

Lunar New Year Cup Final 2019

Shandong Luneng: 3

Gil ‘3, Graziano Pelle ’50, Pedro Delgado ’81

Sagan Tosu: 1

Fernando Torres ’59

Attendance:  21,643 

The annual Lunar New Year Cup saw Chinese Super League side, Shandong Luneng defeat Sagan Tosu of the J-league 3-1, in a high-tempo and ill-tempered final at Hong Kong stadium. Shandong held their nerve and cool too see off the Japanese side which featured star attraction, Fernando Torres. The crowds had come to see Torres and the two day tournament was well-attended and the the action packed final was a fantastic climax to a well organized event.

The match was action packed from the start and Brazilian centre-back, Gil, slotted the Chinese team into the lead in the second minute from a corner and Graziano Pelle doubled their lead in the 50th minute and the match seemed out of reach for the Japanese side.  With the Hong Kong crowd backing the J-League side, Torres pulled a goal back  in the ’59 minute with a header.

Torres scored in the final but ended up losing. Photo: Eric Li

Shandong again broke away to restored their two goal cushion in the 81st minute when Gomes Delgado made it 3-1. The match was out of reach for Sagan though the match threatened to boil over on at least five to six occasions as this friendly tournament became an ultra competitive one as regional rivalries came to the fore. Shandong’s Wang Dalei was jeered incessantly and before the end of the game, Shandong’s Cui Peng was sent off and felt the full fury of the crowd as he marched off.

Large crowds came out on both days. Photo. Ken Wu

With news that Shandong Luneng has signed Marouane Fellaini, many fans were anticipating his debut in Hong Kong yet, despite being in Hong Kong for a short period, he flew out again for further injury treatment. The match marked the end of two days of competition held at Hong Kong stadium and a return to form for the annual competition in terms of attracting high qualify teams and large crowds to Hong Kong stadium. 

In the past decade, the competition has struggled to attract sponsors so teams in attendance have been in fits and spurts; last year saw the HK League XI take on the national team. In the glory days of the competition, national teams used to take to the field and luminaries such as Rivaldo, Dragan Stojković, Hristo Stoichkov have all graced Hong Kong stadium.

JRP Borthwick, Hong Kong football writer, has attended many Lunar New Year tournaments and shared his memories from the competition’s heyday in the nineties.

“The Lunar New Year tournament in Hong Kong has been staged in various formats through the years and I am very glad to have been there for a lot of it. I have seen it as a European club invitational, an international competition and now very much as an Asia-Pacific club tournament. Each guise has had been great to see.”

“I recall seeing some classics in my time; some real history being made and quality turning up including the visit of Dragan Stojkovic with Yugoslavia and Renee Higuita of Colombia in 1995, and then Norway in 2001. As I am part Norwegian, that one was great for me. Me and the boys even managed a picture with Higuita in 1995- one for the pool room in a few years I reckon!”

Shuichi Takamizawa, a Japanese football expert, said the tournament was enjoyable for football fans who remained in the city over Chinese new year. 

“It was a lot fun to see teams from a variety of regions with different styles during the Chinese New year tournament. Through the tournament, every team played really hard and performed very well. I think, not only me, but also other fans found it surprising, in a good way I mean, to see such competitive football games at high level here in Hong Kong.”

Takamizawa was also happy that a J-League team decided to take part in the tournament as it added to the flavour of tournament and as both Shandong and Sagan have their domestic leagues coming up, this was seen as a perfect warm-up for both teams. 

“I saw Sagan’s first game in the stadium and second one on the television.  I thought their performance was not bad for both games. With a new coach and a new player from Barcelona, Isaac Cuenca, for the new season, I can see they’re now trying to play more on the side so that they can maximize Torres scoring ability with more good service to him. Judging from the result, I guess it is on right track so far now.”

Sagan Tosu manager Luis Carreras, on the right, lauded the tournament. Photo: Chris KL Lau

Sagan Tosu manager, Luis Carreras, through his translator also lauded the organization of the Lunar New Year Cup.

“Thank you to everyone who worked for the tournament. It was excellent and it was a nice tournament, nice stadium and nice people. Everything was good. We wanted to win but congratulations to Shandong.”

Billy Chan, a football fan from Vancouver, who has attend the lunar new year Cup in the past, enjoyed the action on the field and the bumper crowds. “I loved the fans drumming at both ends of the field. The spirit and atmosphere was awesome for a Chinese New Year celebration.”

Tournament highlights below by Ken Wu

RTHK Radio 3 Sports presenter, Atom Cheung, said the that having Fernardo Torres as a star attraction was crucial for drawing in the crowds. 

“I think all you need is a big star. Most Hong Kong people don’t know where Tosu is but they know Fernando Torres and that’s the guy they came to see. From a fan perspective I think the football was entertaining. I’m not sure how many people came to watch Auckland and I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to have two Hong Kong teams, say a local youth team plus a veterans team, just an idea.”

The Hong Kong League XI defeated Auckland City 1-0 to gain a respectable third place. Hong Kong keeper Zhang Chunhui crucially saved a penalty and Awal Mahama scored Hong Kong’s crucial goal and the home side held on for a well-deserved victory.

Tournament highlights from Zinc Yeung of offside.hk

For many who grew up watching the Lunar New Year Cup, this well organized tournament and fiercely contested final harked back to a golden time in Hong Kong football and it gives hope that this popular tournament will grow again and attract the biggest teams in world football again.

Tournament highlights from Eric Li

Christopher KL Lau was born in England and grew up in both England and Hong Kong, and has a background in media, education and non-profits. He also is a freelance writer / photographer and has written for a number of magazines, websites and newspapers around the world on many subjects ranging from the arts to travel. Chris is passionate about sports and its place in society and is keen to promote both Hong Kong and Chinese football to a wider audience.

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