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Terrific Tai Po Bury Demons and Return to AFC Cup with Historic 4-2 Win over Kitchee

Tai Po players salute their long-suffering fans. Photo: Dennis Lo

AFC Cup Group I – First Match Day

Kitchee: 2

Fernando ’63, Cancela ’86

Tai Po: 4

Joao Emir ’31, Sartori ’50, Cheung Wai Keung ’88, Sawyer ’90+4

After a decade away from intercontinental cup competition, Tai Po, marked their return  to the AFC Cup with a resounding 4 -2 win over bitter local rivals Kitchee.

The sides have played each other in both league and domestic cup competitions many times in the past two seasons and this long played out rivalry is set to continue and spill over into AFC Cup group I. Tai Po struck the first blow in what is a very competitive group which could go right to the wire.

Tai Po have return to the AFC Cup after a decade. Photo: Dennis Lo

Mong Kok stadium saw Kitchee host the ‘visitors’ Tai Po and the travelling Tai Po “Green Army” who made the short journey south saw an incredibly exciting match. The six goal thriller had a grandstand finish which saw Tai Po snatch two goals right at the death which sent the ‘away’ team and their fans into unbridled joy and delirium.

Tai Po opened the scoring with Joao Emir firing in a speculative shot on the 31st minute from roughly forty yards out and the bounce deceived the keeper which gifted the opening goal. Early in the second half, Tai Po extended their lead after a mazy run by Igor Sartori whose shot was deflected off a Kithee defender to bounce into the net. Tai Po were 2-0 up and cruising though it was never safe to underestimate a solid Kitchee side.

Kitchee striker, Fernando, reduced the deficit in the 63 minute when he latched onto a rebounded shot off the post by Recio and side-footed the ball into the top corner. It was now 2-1 and Tai Po’s two goal margin was already reduced and more action was to come. In the 86th minute, Dani Cancela’s volley curved and spun away from the Tai Po keeper to make it 2-2 and Kitchee had made an incredible comeback and seemingly, had one point and a steady start to the group.

The two teams battled it out in a six goal thriller. Photo: Dennis Lo

The game turned again when Tai Po, who are now made of sterner stuff and over their “Kitchee” mental block, scored two goals in quick succession. Kitchee had barely finished their celebrations for their second goal when Tai Po seized onto a lapse in concentration to score a crucial third through Cheung Wai Keung who cooly finished and Tai Po fans again went mad with celebrations. Harry Sawyer put the game beyond reach when he made it four for Tai Po to seal a famous win for the AFC Cup returnees.

JRP Borthwick, Hong Kong football writer said it was an intense game which had an incredibly dramatic finish.  

“It was a tense first half between the two sides and a crucial missed opportunity by Tai Po gave Kitchee a chance to come back into the game to level it 2-2. It was a great finish and Tai Po stretched themselves to complete a great win!”

A. McLeod, a keen football fan who lives in Hong Kong, experienced his first AFC Cup match, enjoyed the game and said Kitchee did well to fight back though Tai Po did deserve to win.

“I think Tai Po really did deserve the win and there is no doubt that Kitchee initially dominated the  possession but they just lacked a bit of spark in the final third. Tai Po came to win and every time they came forward you knew they might have a chance. When Kitchee came back into the game, the match picked up another gear!”

The two sides are now bitter rivals also fighting it out for the league title. Photo: Dennis Lo

Atom Cheung, RTHK Sports Radio Presenter of the Hong Kong Today Show, said Tai Po’s forward line and firepower made the difference in the match.

“I think Tai Po deserved the victory especially in the first half when they played well. Tai Po definitely had the firepower with players like Sandro.”

In the night’s other match, April 25 from DPR Korea defeated Hang Yuan of Chinese Taipei 3-0. April 25, who reached the inter-zone playoff final in the last AFC Cup, will be favourites to win the group with either Tai Po or Kitchee probably fighting it out for the runners-up spot.

In the next round of matches set to be played on April 17th, Kitchee will take on April 25 away in DPR Korea while Tai Po will take on Hang Yuan at home in Hong Kong. Tai Po and Kitchee will both seek to build on this game and hopefully both Hong Kong teams will be able to qualify from the group.

For years, Tai Po had fallen short against Kitchee, yet the tide has now turned and the timing is perfect for the perennial ‘runner-ups’ as surely this hard-fought win will give this long suffering Tai Po team the confidence and motivation to lead Hong Kong’s charge into the knock-out out stages of the AFC Cup.

Photos from the game by Dennis Lo.

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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