A little luck made all the difference as South China scraped through to a 1-0 win over arch-rivals Kitchee in their Canbo Senior Shield second-round, first-leg match at Hong Kong Stadium yesterday.
Just as the cup tie, attended by just 2,700 spectators, seemed to be heading for a goalless draw, a low drive by South China midfielder Manoel Santos from outside the box took a deflection off defender Liu Quankun into the net. The goal that beat keeper Wang Zhenpeng with only three minutes left, was described by Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin as "bad luck".
It was the Brazilian's sixth goal of the season, and an important step in South China's bid to win the Shield after having been the losing finalists for the last two seasons.
A heavy downpour just before the start seemed to scare off many fans, but there was indeed little excitement for those who paid the HK$60 ticket.
Neither side was able to create clear-cut chances to earn themselves a comfortable cushion for the second leg at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground next Sunday. However, South China, who also won by the same margin when the two teams last met in the league, had much more possession than their opponents throughout the match.
Caroliners coach Liu Chun-fai emphasised that possession without finding the net counted for nothing.
"We had control most of the time, but our finishing was too poor to deliver," said Liu. "Santos is a quality player and today he proved it again. But we must solve the problem [of not creating and converting chances]."
Kitchee coach Josep Gombau will be scratching his head when filling his team sheet for the second leg in seven days. Striker Jorge Tarres was limping in the closing stages with an apparent leg problem, while midfield powerhouse Lam Ka-wai is still nursing his left leg injury sustained in the midweek international against Malaysia. Defender Liu was sent off in stoppage time for a second booking and will not be available for the match. Nonetheless, the two sides always seem to produce close matches and the outcome will be difficult to predict the result until the final whistle.
Citizen also gained a 1-0 advantage over defending champs Sun Hei as Festus Baise's 84th-minute header sealed their first-leg tie at Tsing Yi Sports Ground yesterday. The second leg is at Mong Kok Stadium on Thursday.