South China completed a remarkable one-year turnaround yesterday when they were crowned the Coolpoint Ventilation First Division League champions after beating Lanwa 3-1 in Dongguan City Stadium.
Cheered on by 120 travelling fans, the Caroliners had Detinho to thank as the Brazilian bagged a hat-trick to complete the victory they needed to seal the title for the first time in seven years.
South China finish the season with 42 points from their 18 matches, three ahead of Kitchee, who will play Citizen tomorrow. Kitchee, though, cannot catch the champions even if they beat Citizen because they have an inferior head-to-head record against South China.
It was all a far cry from 12 months ago when South China needed a special dispensation from the Hong Kong Football Association to save them from relegation.
Steven Lo Kit-shing returned to the helm as team convenor and ploughed HK$10 million into the team budget, an investment that has already reaped two trophies - the Senior Shield and the league title - and could yet yield more.
'This is a remarkable result,' said Lo. 'When Lanwa equalised in the second half, I was thinking whether we should cancel all the celebrations tomorrow. But thanks to the efforts of Detinho, we scored two more and won the match.'
The Caroliners have a victory parade planned for today. An open-top bus will carry the players and the two trophies from their headquarters in Causeway Bay to Olympian City in Tai Kok Tsui, where a two-hour celebration will take place.
The players were awarded a morale-boosting bonus of HK$300,000 for winning the league title yesterday.
'We have set our sights on more domestic silverware next season, but our primary target will be the AFC Cup, which no football team from Hong Kong have won before,' he added. 'We want to create history.'
South China went into the lead in the 28th minute when Detinho scored a header from a Wong Chun-yue corner.
Li Chong then equalised for the home side eight minutes into the second half when he beat defender Man Pei-tak on the left and let loose a powerful shot.
But Detinho had the final say, tapping in a Tales Schutz cross in the 58th minute and scoring another header in the 67th.
'I am very happy to help the team win the league title,' said the 33-year-old Brazilian striker, who has also won league titles with Portuguese sides Leixoes and Marco before joining South China this season.
'I want to stay with South China for at least two or more seasons.'