Kitchee ready for mother of all parties
The champagne has been ordered, a sumptuous buffet planned and even the BMA Hong Kong First Division trophy has been polished. The only thing missing? The championship has still to be won.
But so confident are Kitchee that they will claim their first league title in 47 years tonight when they take on Hong Kong Football Club, team boss Ken Ng Kin has given the orders for a lavish party to celebrate a historic success.
Victory against bottom-of-the- table Club will see Kitchee crowned champions for the first time since 1964, no matter how South China fare against Tai Chung in their final match in two weeks. South China are one point behind leaders Kitchee and the four-time defending champions will be praying for an upset tonight.
But Club, who will be relegated to the Second Division, will have to conjure a miracle to spoil Kitchee's party after winning just one of 17 matches this season, downing third-from-bottom Tuen Mun 2-1 last month.
'It is the most important day for the club for almost 50 years and everyone at Kitchee is looking forward to hearing the final whistle,' Ng said yesterday. 'All the hard work will have been worth it if we beat Club. We are confident we can do it.
'On paper, we are far superior, but this is soccer and anything can happen. However, we did thrash Club 6-0 earlier in the season [in September] so it would be very surprising if we did not win again.
'We have booked a buffet dinner by the pool at Football Club for about 200 guests, including the players and their families, the sponsors and many other parties who have helped the club this season.
'We have also ordered champagne so that everyone can share this happy moment with us. Hopefully, it will be a joyous occasion ... unless we lose.'
The Hong Kong Football Association has also agreed to a Kitchee request to bring the trophy to the Club ground so the champions-in-waiting can start celebrating immediately after the match. An official presentation will not be held until next month.
Captain Lo Kwan-yee said he had not been sleeping well for the past few days because of the significance of tonight's match. 'We all know how important this game is,' said Lo, who joined Kitchee from Rangers in 2007 and has yet to win a trophy in his 11-year professional career.
'Normally, we wouldn't worry about playing Club but this time we are all under a lot of pressure because there is so much at stake,' he said.
The league champions will represent Hong Kong in next year's AFC Cup along with Citizen, the Senior Shield winners. They will also receive a cash prize of HK$500,000 and join Chelsea, Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers for this summer's Barclays Asia Trophy at Hong Kong Stadium.
Despite the pressure, Lo said the team would approach the game in a professional manner. 'We've been consistent all season and being crowned champions is a reward we deserve,' he said.
Coach Josep Gombau, still serving a six-match ban for breaking a Football Association video camera during a match in February, will have to watch the game from the Happy Valley racecourse infield. But he said the team were well prepared. 'The players have been very focused during training for the past few days and all have a clear picture of their roles,' the Spaniard said. 'I know many of them are a bit tense, but I have the confidence that they can cope with the situation well.'
Assistant coach Ricky Cheng Siu-chung, who won numerous titles as a player, has given tips on how to approach the match mentally.
A long wait
Tonight's game against lowly-ranked Club is one of the most important in Kitchee's history
The number of years the team have waited for the First Division crown: 47