Kitchee vow to humble big-spending Caroliners
South China face their moment of truth when they take on Kitchee in a win-or-bust encounter at Tseung Kwan O Stadium today.
Not only is the fate of the First Division title on the line, but also the very foundation of the ambitious club: playing in the international arena.
Assuming that both teams win their remaining three games after today's -and they should do so if the form book holds true- then this afternoon's encounter will decide the winners of the league.
If Kitchee manage to pull it off, South China will be in the embarrassing situation of having failed to book a berth in next year's Asian Football Confederation Cup. That would mean goodbye to star signings such as Nicky Butt and Mateja Kezman.
The AFC Cup -the region's second-tier competition- is open only to the winners of a country's premier league or its main knockout tournament, which in Hong Kong's case is the Senior Shield. This latter tournament has already been decided, with Citizen scoring a shock penalty shootout victory over South China.
A defeat by Kitchee could see the Caroliners' last path into the AFC Cup being closed. It is a mouth-watering prospect for Kitchee, who are two points behind South China.
'This is the most important fixture for us in recent years as this game will determine the league title, and more importantly the remaining spot for next year's AFC Cup,' Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin said.
Another huge incentive will be the fact that the First Division champions will represent Hong Kong at the Barclays Asia Trophy in July against English Premier League teams Chelsea, Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers.
Ng believes South China will be under immense pressure to deliver and it could help his team.
Big-spending South China have splashed out more than four times the amount Kitchee have spent this season. The money spent on acquiring Butt and Kezman among others, for a five-month period, is more than Kitchee's entire budget.
Kitchee will have home advantage -South China boss Steven Lo Kit-sing had offered to pay to hire Hong Kong Stadium, but the offer was rejected- but coach Josep Gombau will be missing from the dugout as he has been banned for the rest of the season by the Hong Kong Football Association for damaging its property during a game last month.
Both teams will be at full-strength, with South China welcoming back Butt and Chan Siu-ki, who were rested in the FA Cup quarter-final 3-1 victory over Citizen on Thursday.
'We have been playing well recently. Our win over Citizen plus our victory in the League Cup final last Sunday against TSW Pegasus has boosted our morale,' said South China coach Chan Ho-yin.
South China's remaining fixtures are against Rangers, Pegasus and Tai Chung. Kitchee's last three matches are against Tuen Mun, Tai Chung and Hong Kong Football Club. Both know victory today is vital.
Football Club scored their first victory in the First Division when they defeated visitors Tuen Mun 2-1 last night. With only two draws before the match, they are now on five points but still stay firmly at the bottom of the standings with three matches left for the season. Fellow strugglers Tai Chung are on 11 points, but with one game in hand, while Sun Hei are on 14 points, but have two matches in hand over Club.
Law Ka-lok put the visitors ahead in the 43rd minute but Gergely Gheczy levelled in first-half stoppage time. Another goal in second-half stoppage time by Allan Freser sealed the important victory for Club.