Rakocevic the toast of Kitchee
Darko Rakocevic swung from villain to hero in a span of 20 minutes as Kitchee retained the League Cup with a 2-1 victory over Happy Valley in the final at Mong Kok Stadium yesterday.
Kitchee's Serbian defender conceded a penalty, converted by Poon Yiu-cheuk, when he brought down forward Shum Kwok-keung inside the box in the 56th minute.
But Rakocevic scored from two free kicks, in the 72nd and 76th minutes, and became the darling of the Kitchee fans, ensuring their side's first title of the season.
'I feel very happy,' said the 25-year-old centrehalf, an easy choice for the match's best defender award and a cash prize of HK$5,000.
'This is the first time I have scored two goals in a match and it helped the team win a cup. In fact, I have scored only one other goal this season, against Rangers in the First Division league. It is just wonderful.'
Rakocevic joined Kitchee in the middle of last season, but he has since been plagued by injuries. 'He only came back this month after a two-month injury lay-off and he had a good game today,' said Kitchee coach Dejan Antonic.
Kitchee also beat Valley in the final last year and their boss, Ken Ng Kin, paid a bonus of HK$40,000 to his winning charges, which was added to the winning finalists' cheque for HK$80,000 from the Football Association.
Ng admitted Kitchee were a bit lucky yesterday to have a defender score two free kicks.
'Valley performed very well today and I must give them credit,' he said. 'Our attack was seriously hampered by the suspension of striker Keith Gumbs and the other striker, Wilfed Bamnjo, went off in the second half suffering from chest pain. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if the goals come from defenders or strikers, as long as we win.'
Gumbs, who has scored 13 goals for Kitchee this season, was forced to sit out the final because of a yellow card he was shown in the semi-final win over South China.
Valley had a good opportunity to open the scoring in the first half, but Cheung Sai-ho's shot from outside the box hit the crossbar in the 37th minute. They also created a number of chances with some fast counter-attacks when leading 1-0, but Law Chun-pong and Shum Kwok-kung failed to capitalise.
Fabio Alcantara had a chance to equalise in the closing stages, but his header went inches wide with the keeper well beaten.
'The result is disappointing as we desperately wanted to win,' said Valley coach Lo Kai-wah. 'But the performance was fine. We have shown some improvement in terms of team work. If we had had better finishing when we were ahead we would have won.'
Kitchee, who are also leading the First Division, have now set their sights on the FA Cup. 'There is an extra bonus for winning the FA Cup because the winners will play Liverpool at Hong Kong Stadium [in July's FA Premier League Asia Trophy] and this is obviously our target,' said Ng.