Hong Kong matches just as thrilling as English Premier League
First Division is filled with red and yellow cards, last-minute comebacks and fierce competition
A 10-goal thriller was the outstanding highlight last week in Hong Kong's beleaguered domestic league. Our unheralded league contains as many controversies, comebacks and colourful characters as the ever-entertaining English Premier League, and if these are the bare necessities of great soccer than Hong Kong deserves more attention than it receives.
In the first month of this season, there were 75 goals in 20 matches over four rounds in the 10-team RedMR First Division. Referees dished out 88 yellow cards and seven red cards, and awarded 11 penalties. Some of those penalties were spot on, others were dubious, three were not converted.
The most controversial incident was a penalty awarded in the final moments of Kitchee's match against Citizen. The teams were deadlocked at 2-2, when the referee blew for a penalty during a Kitchee corner kick. Players and coaches were incensed, the media had a field day, but video replays showed the referee had spotted a Citizen player pushing an opponent.
The most surprising event was the 97th-minute winner by South China against arch rivals and reigning champions Kitchee. Many fans had already left Hong Kong Stadium content with a no-score draw and missed it. That fiery match also saw 10 cautions and a sending-off.
The 10-goal thriller between Citizen and Wofoo Tai Po last week capped the end of round eight as the domestic league approaches the halfway stage. This roller coaster developed unexpectedly for hundreds of spectators on a cool, breezy early Sunday evening under the lights in Mongkok Stadium. By the 35th minute Citizen were two goals up and seemingly in command. By half-time they were smarting as Tai Po scored three quick-fire goals in the final five minutes of the first half in a remarkable comeback.
But Citizen have a host of colourful characters in their squad - most powerful being popular Brazilian Deltinho, whose real name (Jose Wellington Bento Dos Santos) is as long as he is tall. This 1.88 metre friendly giant is like Manchester City's "super sub" Edin Dzeko because he wins everything in the air and makes a huge difference with his presence and contribution. Deltinho came on, scored a hat-trick and gave two assists to inspire Citizen's own comeback to win 7-3.
Other notable characters include clever captain Festus Baise, solid centreback Chiu Chun-kit and composed striker Yuto Nakamura. There is also left-back Wong Yiu-fu who has a sweet left foot. He looks like a child version of former Real Madrid player Roberto Carlos, particularly because he wears oversized shorts that almost completely cover his stubby, muscular legs.
Citizen really are a citizen's club because, unlike glamorous South China and Kitchee, the players are down-to-earth and friendly. They train at Happy Valley and have a thriving community of youth players and supporters.
The domestic league title appears again to be a two-horse race between Kitchee and South China, who are separated by one point. Equally exciting is the bottom end of the table, which promises to be a dogfight between several tightly bunched teams, even though only one will be relegated this season.
Next season, First Division will expand to 12 teams, which means three from the Second Division will be promoted. This has generated keen competition and some boisterous matches among six Second Division teams who are vying for the promotion places. For example, early this season Eastern Salon and Yuen Long - two former First Division clubs with honours - squared up. Neither wanted to lose and the match became heated and feisty. The referee handed out three red cards and 10 yellows. All red cards went to Eastern Salon players, and the team lost 5-1.
The other teams competing for top-tier spots are HKFC, Sha Tin, Happy Valley and Tai Chung. Interestingly, if Tai Chung secure promotion to the First Division, it will mean two owners will each have two teams in Hong Kong's top flight.
Steven Lo Kit-sing owns South China and Sun Pegasus, while former referee-turned-owner Ken Ng Kin oversees Kitchee and Tai Chung. This is like Roman Abramovich owning Chelsea and, say, Reading in the Premiership, which would not be allowed under EPL rules.
Who said Hong Kong's league was boring?