Under glorious clear skies and in front of their adoring fans , Woofoo Tai Po, were finally crowned Hong Kong premier league champions. For the “Greens”, it was the perfect end to their dream-like season and a 3-1 home win over Dreams FC capped off the perfect day.
Tai Po won one of the most tightly contested Hong Kong Premier league races in recent memory and while teams like R & F, Kitchee and Southern kept pace for most of the season, it was Tai Po whom outlasted and outplayed their opponents and pipped them all at the last post. Tai Po will seek to retain their star players though rumours abound that there could be an exodus of their top talent to the wealthier clubs with much larger budgets.
In terms of the league itself, many say that the standard of play in the premier league, has gone up a level. One of the most improved teams this year was KC Southern FC. Their captain, Zesh Rehman, reflected on the past season for the Aberdeen side.
“Our season has gone well to date but it would be perfect to finish it with the FA Cup in the bag. We fought until the last few games for the league but unfortunately could not quite get over the line. I think it was great for the league to have four genuine title contenders this season. Congratulations to Tai Po for winning the title in the end. On a personal note I have been pleased with my level of performances and take a huge amount of satisfaction and motivation from the fact we have the best defensive record in the league. Hopefully next season we can continue to challenge the clubs with a bigger budget and win the league.”
Eastern’s Manuel Bleda Rodríguez reflected on his side’s domestic challenge and said Eastern were title contenders until around November though he congratulated Tai Po for their league triumph and commended their fittest levels.
“I think Eastern’s season was very good until last November. After November, we could not recover from a bad performance and lost all options in the fight for the league championship. Tai Po have been the fittest team in the second half of the championship and they are just winners. Eastern’s matches against Tai Po were very closely contested and either team could have won them. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Tai Po for winning the championship.”
In terms of the overall development of the game in Hong Kong, HKFA Technical Director, Thorlakur Arnason, who has been in Hong Kong for nearly half a year, was happy to share his thoughts on grassroots football in Hong Kong and his experiences so far.
“In general, grassroots football over here in Hong Kong is well organised and the system is good. The shift from grassroots is a bit unclear because the structure of clubs is undeveloped in most cases. We have a few clubs/districts with a plan in terms of ‘Elite Youth’ but they are too few. The environment is also short-term as contracts with players and coaches are short and therefore, it is difficult to build up for the future. There is the problem.”
“We need to have a clear pathway for a player starting playing football and how he/she develops in that environment. Some will be elite players, others supporters, referees, coaches or volunteers. We are losing a lot of talented people because they who control things do not see the marketing value when a child enters into football in the beginning. Youth development and coach education is the key for success in Hong Kong in the future just like in any other country”
Sudden death winner sees Newcastle United Retain Hong Kong Soccer Sevens Title
The annual HKFC Citi Hong Kong Soccer Sevens saw Newcastle United defeat a spirited Rangers team 4-3 in an incredible see-saw main cup final. Newcastle are regulars to the tournament and this is their second successive title in a row. The tournament was played in oppressively hot and energy sapping conditions yet the premier league side played with strength and mental toughness to outlast all their opponents.
The main cup final was a real topsy-turvy classic and the young Newcastle players showed great fortitude to fight back; Rangers were 2-0 up early on but Newcastle fought back to take the lead only for Rangers to equalise to make it 3-3. In sudden death, Newcastle captain Owen Bailey, netted the winner which sparked scenes of total joy and the title was going back to England.
Photos below from Ed Packham
It was a rewarding tournament for Northern England as Wallsend Boys Club defeated the Citi All Stars 2-1 to lift the Masters Cup Final. The Main Shield final saw Wolverhampton Wanderers defeat Leicester City 2-1 while Aston Villa defeated the Kerry Yau Yee League select 2-0 in the Main Plate Final.
Photos below from J. Greenberg
The tournament saw the debut of two English teams, Fulham and Wolverhampton Wanderers as well as Portimonense from Portugal. The Portuguese side had the Japanese youth sensation and former Sanfrecce Hiroshima player, Ryonosuke Ohori, in their ranks. The tournament has gained a global reputation for letting young players experience the highs and lows of tournament football against peers of a similar age and ability.
Zesh Rehman, captain of KC Southern and a former Fulham player, was delighted that Fulham’s youth players were in Hong Kong to gain vital tournament experience.
“For the Fulham youth team’s personal and professional development, the Soccer sevens will be very beneficial. I am in regular contact with the guys at the Academy and look forward to catching up with the staff when they are here. People such as Lee Haggar deserve a huge amount of credit for the way they mentor and guide the youngsters. Under the stewardship of Huw Jennings and his the staff, the future Fulham talent is in very good hands indeed.”
Photos below from Denjung L
Christopher Chung, who also plays for KC Southern, got his first big break in professional football after appearing at the Soccer Sevens last year with the HKFA Red Dragons. Chung expressed the importance of the sevens for young players to gain wider exposure.
“The tournament is an excellent opportunity for young players to express themselves against some of the world’s best teams and even make a name for themselves. Having played in the tournament last year, I feel the tournament helped me develop more as a player. The tournament format can be quite challenging and the standards of the opposition will demand the best from you as a player. However, these opportunities will teach players invaluable lessons and give them experiences to develop themselves further.”
Photos below from Ken Wu.
Tai Po and Kitchee Fail to Progress in the AFC Cup 2019
Both Tai Po and Kitchee have failed to progress in the AFC Cup 2019. Tai Po needed to win away in North Korea to stand any chance to progress but fell 4-0 to April 25. Kitchee managed to restore some pride after stumbling through the first few rounds with a 2-1 away win over Hang Yuen in Taipei.
Mark Henderson from the East Asian Football blog, From The Tofubowl, has closely followed Kitchee’s opponents, Hang Yuen, and gave his opinion on their overall performance in the AFC Cup against the more established sides in their group.
“Hang Yuen’s performances are exactly what I expected from them, Taiwanese football might not have known it before they started actually entering the AFC Cup but their sides are way behind others in the region, such as Hong Kong teams, and April 25th the North Korean side are the best of the bunch every year from the Eastern Zone.”
“Hang Yuen seem to have marginally got a little better from the previous campaign as they are losing by smaller margins it seems. It will be a long time before they make any dent at all in the competition though, and I doubt they”ll win a game for a long time to come either. The only time they’ll greatly improve is if the league in Taiwan becomes better, and that isn’t happening over night either. Taiwanese football is stuck between a rock and hard place, because the league needs to improve, but it needs interest for the CTFA, or anyone involved to make it better. I feel like I end up discussing the same thing over and over, but the whole league here needs thrown out, and started again from scratch, with a much better long term plan put in place. Then and only then will Taiwanese football do better in intercontinental competitions. “
Henderson also went onto give his views on the Hang Yuen players who have impressed him so far in this campaign.
“The standout player for Hang Yuen by far has been their new signing Benchy, he has been brilliant and I find it odd that has ended up playing in the Taiwanese Premier League. There is no doubt in my mind that Hang Yuen’s other Haitian player – Marc Alexander from last season recommended them to the club because there is no way they were scouted by the club. If he stays in this league, he will be one of the best players in the league by far, similar to Marco Fenelus, but it all depends if he wants to be a big fish in a small pond, or move on to bigger and better things. He is too good to be playing here long term.”
On June 19th, Tai Po and Kitchee will yet again go head to head in AFC Cup group I. Both sides will attempt to shake off any post league season tiredness and play for bragging rights and personal pride. Hang Yuen face the daunting task of playing away in North Korea against April 25 and will try and at least avoid defeat; April 25 progress as group winners.
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