South China were defeated by China Super League side Changchun Yatai in a penalty shootout after sides were deadlocked 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes in the Chinese New Year Cup final in Meizhou yesterday.
Fullback Jack Sealy headed home an own goal in the 10th minute, cancelling out teammate Alessandro Celin's opening goal in the third minute. Celin was the most impressive player in the two-day tournament, putting the Hong Kong giants ahead with a low drive in the early exchanges.
No extra time was added and the match went straight to penalty kicks to decide the title.
Both Carlos Bertoldi and Luk Chi-ho missed their spot kicks for the Caroliners, while Changchun missed one of their kicks after Pei Shuan shot high over the target, but the mainlanders claimed victory with a 4-3 win in the shoot-out.
Coach Liu Chun-fai was pleased with the team performance despite the team's failure to deliver at the final hurdle. "We had some very good performances over the two days and it has been a good training exercise for the boys," Liu said. "You could not ask them for more as we met two strong Chinese Super League sides.
"In the end we lost in the penalty shoot-out. Luck always plays an important role.
"But it's a bit disappointing to lose like this."
South China pulled off a surprise 4-1 win over Guangzhou R&F in their opening match to put the Caroliners through to the final.
Celin's early goal got them off to an impressive start and even after the setback of Sealy's own goal, they were still able to hold on until the second half when they started to bring in new faces.
Had it not been the poor finishing of Changchun striker Isaac da Silva, South China would have lost the match in regulation.
"We needed to replace some players and give chances to others so that all players can keep their form when they return to domestic competitions.
"This is, after all, only a friendly tournament," said Liu.
In the third-place play-off, Guangzhou R&F overcame Shenzhen Red Diamonds 5-2.