South Korea’s Busan IPark fought off a spirited display from the Hong Kong League XI to win their opening encounter in the Lunar New Year Cup at Hong Kong Stadium.
The local team, made up of the cream of the First Division which had come together only a few days ago, rose to the occasion but couldn’t quite pull off a fairytale victory as they went down 3-1 to the K-League visitors.
The League XI, trailing 2-0 at half-time, revived hopes briefly of a comeback when Wo Foo Taipo midfielder Aender Mesquita cracked in a 25-yard scorcher to lift the spirits of the small crowd at Hong Kong Stadium.
But Busan IPark quickly regained the two-goal cushion from a lightning fast counterattack which ended in Lim Sang-hyub rounding Hong Kong League XI goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng to knock in his team’s third goal.
“It was a sound performance. We have been training for the last month in Thailand and this result is the right one,” said Busan IPark coach Yoon Sung-hyo.
A defensive blunder early in the game by Hong Kong League XI’s Joel Padilha set the tone for the home team in front of the 5,419-strong crowd on the opening day of the China Mobile Satellite Communications Lunar New Year Cup.
Padilha’s attempt to back-pass to goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng ended in disaster with Korean striker Lee Jeng-ki latching on to the poor pass with predatory instincts before knocking the ball past the stranded goalie.
Busan IPark doubled the lead minutes later when Lee turned provider with a pinpoint cross which was coolly headed in by Han Ji-ho to give the K-League team a two-goal cushion which they held on to easily until the break.
“It was an OK result considering that we are a side which just got together a few days ago. We just had three training sessions together, and I thought we played well despite not having played together as a unit before,” said Hong Kong League XI coach Josep Gombau.
The Koreans will now meet Shanghai East Asia in the final on Wednesday. Shanghai East Asia booked their berth in the final with a comfortable 4-1 victory over 10-man Muangthong United from Thailand in the opening game.
The game as a contest ended soon after the first half when the Thais, trailing 2-1, lost substitute goalkeeper Umarin Yaodam, who was red-carded by the referee for handling the ball outside the area.
Muangthong United had lost their number one goalie, Kawin Thamsatchanan, minutes earlier through injury, and the loss of Yaodam left the Thai champions without a regular custodian.
Defender Mongkol Namnuad took over the goalkeeping duties, but he was all at sea as Shanghai East Asia mounted waves of attacks against the under-strength and demoralised Thais to fire in two more goals.
“The first half was good but the second half was a joke,” said Muangthing United coach Slavisa Jokanovic. “Without a regular goalkeeper it was difficult.”
Shanghai East Asia, winners of the Chinese First Division last season, opened scoring early in the match when Zhu Zhengrong latched on to a rebound and tucked it into the right hand corner.
That score was cancelled out in the 33rd minuted by Roland Linz who knocked in the equaliser for the Thais capitalising on poor defensive work by Zun Kai who failed to clear a cross.
The Chinese went 2-1 ahead just on halftime when impressive striker Kofi Dickson was put through and rounded the keeper before crossing to Wu Lei for a simple tap-in. That goal not only gave Shanghai East Asia the lead but also left their opponents without their national team goalkeeper who was injured trying to rob the ball off Dickson’s feet.
Things went from bad to worse when substitute goalie Yaodam was banished by the referee trying to prevent Zhu from scoring his second goal. Zhu broke free down the right flank and caught the defence napping with his turn of speed forcing Yaodam to come off his line and outside the penalty area where he used his hands to prevent the Chinese striker from rounding him.
Namnuad hardly had time to settle down as the third goalkeeper for Muangthong United before Dickson made it 3-1 knocking in a cross. Dickson squandered a couple more chances of scoring but defender Wand Jaijie made certain of the result hammering in a long range shot midway through the second half.
“At the end of the day, the score wasn’t important. What was important was that we won and how we played. And what we learned is that we must control the ball better in front of the goal,” said Shanghai East Asia coach Jiang Bingyao.