Kitchee boss Ng sees silver lining in cup defeat
South China's 4-2 win over Kitchee in the League Cup semi-final on Sunday could turn out to be their ultimate undoing, Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin believes.
His upbeat outlook is based on the fact that the really important task is to win the First Division title, which will ensure the champions a berth in next year's Asian Football Confederation Cup - the regional second-tier tournament below the Asian Champions League.
By winning through to the League Cup final, South China have booked an extra game in the calendar, just a week before a league encounter against their rivals Kitchee on April 3 that is likely to decide the title race.
'I'm not all that unhappy that we lost [the League Cup semi-final]. I don't want it to sound like sour grapes, but this allows us to concentrate on the important job on hand which is to win the league title,' Ng said.
Whether South China's extra commitment before the season decider will work against them remains to be seen.
However, South China convenor Steven Lo Kit-sing is unlikely to be fazed considering the depth of players he has.
In his blog on the club website before Sunday's match, Lo said he did not care if the side won or lost.
'We are looking at this game as another opportunity to get our combinations right before the AFC Cup next month.'
South China have put so much focus on the AFC Cup campaign that they are in real danger of failing to qualify for this same tournament next season.
Only the winners of the league and the cup (in Hong Kong's case it is the Senior Shield and not the League Cup) can represent a country in the AFC Cup.
Already one avenue has been closed with Citizen pulling off a shock win over South China in the Senior Shield final.
The only path open for South China to the 2012 AFC Cup is to win the league. They trail Kitchee by a point with both teams having six games to play.
Which comes back to that possibly crucial April 3 tie against Kitchee.
'If we had to play a week before that important game, it would have been a distraction, one which we can't afford,' Ng said.
'Of course, we would like to beat South China every time we meet, but losing to them [on Sunday] could be a blessing in disguise.'
Ng blamed the conditions at Hong Kong Stadium for the loss. A two-hour downpour before the game turned the pitch into a soggy paddy. The poor drainage system briefly threatened to postpone the second semi-final before both clubs decided to go ahead.
Kitchee just wanted to get this game out of the way, win or lose. They did not want their calendar being cluttered by a postponed game, especially such a minor League Cup fixture within the domestic season.
'The conditions were not conducive to our style of play but we just wanted to finish so that we could concentrate on the league,' Ng added.
The only good thing for South China counterpart Lo is that their opponents in the League Cup final are TSW Pegasus, widely regarded as their sister club.
This home-and-home battle might not take too much out of South China in the run-up to their clash against Kitchee.
And the other good outcome for Lo and South China on Sunday was the return to goal-scoring form by multimillion-dollar signing Mateja Kezman from Serbia who netted his first goal - he went on to collect a brace - since arriving last month. It broke a three-game personal scoreless drought.
If Kezman can continue in this vein, then South China might just be able to qualify for next season's AFC Cup, too, by defending their league title against ambitious Kitchee.