Lop-sided League Cup starts tonight
An intense three-week spell of League Cup matches begins tonight when Buler Rangers face struggling Guangzhou side Xiangxue and Citizen - the surprise package of the first half of the league championship - face South China at Mongkok Stadium.
The nine First Division teams have been split into two groups and will play in a round-robin format between now and December 19 to decide the two teams from each section who go into the knockout semi-finals on the Wednesday before Christmas. The final is at the Hong Kong Stadium on Monday, December 27.
The groups have been selected on the basis of league position after a topsy turvy and thoroughly entertaining first section of the championship, and promise to provide an uncharacteristically unpredictable competition, in stark contrast to the somewhat stale proceedings 12 months ago.
The unexpected heroics of third-placed Citizen and second-placed Rangers have resulted in almost all the so-called big guns - South China excepted - being in Group B, which opens hostilities on Thursday.
Defending champions Sun Hei, fourth in the table but only a point adrift, are in the same section as the beaten finalists and current league leaders Happy Valley. The presence of Kitchee in the same section means that those three clubs cannot monopolise the finals of the cup competitions as they did last season, when Sun Hei appeared in all three trophy matches, playing Valley twice and Kitchee once.
In comparison Group A is a collection of the upstarts who have helped to make the 2004-05 season so competitive. Citizen, whose in-your-face approach has brought both goals and red cards in abundance, the highly volatile Rangers and the speedy youngsters of Guangzhou FC feeder team Sunray Cave should all be contenders, along with perennial Hong Kong favourites South China.
LEAGUE CUP GROUPS
Group A: Buler Rangers, Citizen, South China, Sunray Cave and Xiangxue.
Group B: Happy Valley, Fukien, Kitchee, Sun Hei.
Note: Group matches (all at Mongkok Stadium, unless stated).