It's make or break for flailing Caroliners
South China face the possibility of ending a season empty-handed for the first time under convenor Steven Lo Kit-sing when they take on Kitchee in the FA Cup quarter-finals at Hong Kong Stadium today.
A defeat would mean South China finishing a season without any silverware since 2006, when Lo took charge of the powerhouses.
Although the Caroliners are mathematically in contention for the First Division league crown - they are third in the standings - it would take a miraculous series of results for them to finish on top. Indeed, Kitchee could end those slim league hopes by beating lowly Tuen Mun on Thursday.
'This [the FA Cup] is our last realistic chance to win a title,' Lo admitted. 'Although it's disappointing no prize money is on offer in the FA Cup, we need the trophy to compensate for a poor season.
'The players know this is an important clash even more so because it's against Kitchee. If my players want to prove South China are still a force to be reckoned with in Hong Kong soccer, this is the moment.' Hong Kong international Chan Siu-ki said it would be a disaster if South China ended the season without a trophy. 'The FA Cup remains our last hope we are going to give it our best shot,' the South China striker said. 'We beat [second-placed] Pegasus 4-0 [in the league last Sunday] and that has given us a lot of confidence. We have to take that momentum into the match against Kitchee.'
South China skipper Li Haiqiang will be absent through suspension, with Au Yeung Yiu-chung the possible replacement, while target man Martins de Souza, who limped off in the second half against Pegasus, is likely to start again alongside fellow Brazilian striker Giovane da Silva, who netted his first hat-trick for South China in two seasons last Sunday.
Kitchee coach Josep Gombau is hoping to win the match in 90 minutes, rather than have the tie go into extra time, as he wants his side fit and ready for Tuen Mun on Thursday.
'The league championship is our top priority and we must beat Tuen Mun to keep the pressure on Pegasus,' the Spaniard said. 'But it does not mean we will give up the FA Cup without a fight.'
Kitchee, who play their last regional AFC Cup group match the following week, will rest some of their key players today, including captain Chu Siu-kei. Hong Kong international Lo Kwan-yi will be sidelined due to injury.
Meanwhile, relegation-bound Sham Shui Po will join Pegasus in the FA Cup semi-finals after upsetting Wofoo Tai Po 2-1 after extra time at Mong Kok Stadium yesterday.
Dean Evans settled the matter with a low drive in the extra period after the score was locked at 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Pegasus routed Sapling 5-1 in yesterday's other quarter-final.
The number of FA Cups won by South China in their club history. They have also clinched 40 First Division league titles