Kitchee go down fighting as fundraiser falls short
It was a party few bothered to turn up for as Spanish club Villarreal and hosts Kitchee put on an exhibition worthy of celebrating the latter's 80th anniversary at Hong Kong Stadium last night.
Those who stayed away missed a treat. Although Villarreal won 3-0 to claim the Canon Cup, the Hong Kong champions were not disgraced as they held their own, at times even matching their illustrious opponents' game pass for pass in an absorbing match.
But as far as the other reason purpose of the game was concerned - to raise funds for the Japanese earthquake relief charity - last night was a flop with only 7,282 fans turning up, leaving organisers facing a massive loss.
'Yes, it's a loss,' admitted Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin. 'I'm very disappointed that the Hong Kong public didn't support this worthy cause. Those why stayed away missed a very good football match.'
Spain is the heartland of the passing game, best illustrated by La Liga champions Barcelona, who on average complete 700 passes per game. The Spanish national team mesmerised defences with their short, rhythmic passes to win the World Cup last year. Villarreal play in these best traditions.
Kitchee, in their own way, are trying to emulate the Spanish masters. They have set up a Barcelona academy in Hong Kong, where young children who dream of being the next Messi, are being taught to play the beautiful game beautifully. Kitchee have also drafted in an armada of Spanish players who led them to their first league title in 47 years.
They looked the part yesterday against Villarreal. And if forward Roberto Losada hadn't frozen in front of an open goal in the 59th minute, knocking his shot way over the cross bar, the result might have been different. Losada's poor miss came minutes after Villarreal captain Marcos Senna had broken a scoreless deadlock in the 56th minute with a speculative long-range shot. It looped over Kitchee goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng who was perhaps unsighted.
Minutes later, Kitchee's impressive midfielder Lam Ka-wai created the opportunity for Losada, his cross from close range having the Villarreal goalie out of position. Losada was just two yards from the goal, but he still managed to place his side-footed shot over the bar.
'If we had scored at that point the complexion of the match might have changed,' said Kitchee coach Josep Gombau. 'But I'm very proud of the way we played. We were 1-0 down until the last five minutes when tiredness and substitutions resulted in the last two goals.'
Injuries to Kitchee's two stalwart defenders Ubay Luzardo and Fernando Recio in the final minutes saw them being substituted and their absence was immediately felt as Villarreal's Manuel Munoz and Carlos Salvador added two late goals.
Former Japanese international Hidetoshi Nakata played the first half for Kitchee and then second for the Spanish team, but failed to find the net in for either side.
'The final result wasn't a fair reflection of the game,' Gombau said. 'But at the end of the day, this was a party. We were playing for charity.'
A percentage of the gate receipts - HK$1,234,030 - will be donated to earthquake and tsunami relief.
The number of fans who were treated to a highly entertaining match at Hong Kong Stadium last night