Goalless draw enough for South China to reach Shield semis at Kitchee's expense
Champions will get another chance to reach AFC Cup after goalless draw is enough for Caroliners
South China knocked arch-rivals Kitchee out of the Canbo Senior Shield after a drab second-round second-leg tie ended in a scoreless draw at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground yesterday.
In the past, such a result would have been greeted with more than a touch of alarm by Kitchee, for this tournament used to be one pathway into the prestigious AFC Cup competition, with the winners grabbing one of two spots given to Hong Kong by the Asian Football Confederation for the region's second-tier club championship.
But after the Hong Kong Football Association changed the rules last season by creating a Super Cup competition, the Senior Shield winners no longer earn automatic entry into the AFC Cup. Instead they qualify for the Super Cup, where the winners will grab the second ticket to the AFC Cup, with the other going to the First Division league champions.
Yesterday's loss is therefore not as devastating as it could have been for Kitchee, who, while still in strong contention to defend their league crown this year - they are one point behind South China in the standings - can still make it through to the Super Cup by winning the FA Cup or finishing second or third in the league.
It might sound complicated, but the essence of it seems to be that the bigger clubs have got a second, or even third, bite at sealing a spot in the high-profile regional competition. But as far as South China are concerned, they seem to want to take the direct approach into the AFC Cup, which they last graced a couple of seasons ago.
The Caroliners entered yesterday's game knowing they held all the aces, having defeated Kitchee 1-0 in the first-leg encounter a week ago. "We knew they had to take the initiative and attack and we knew they would come at us. But we defended very well," South China's Lee Wai-lim said.
But Kitchee hardly had a sniff of a chance. Missing injured striker Jordi Tarres and midfield dynamo Lam Ka-wai, who returned in a wheelchair from Kuala Lumpur after national duty against Malaysia last week, they looked totally disjointed and never came close to threatening South China goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai.
The 1,782 fans who braved the weather had poor fare to sup on as both teams looked scrappy in front of goal and were lacking the finishing touches or creativity to break the deadlock.
South China had the better of the few chances that cropped up, with Manoel Santos coming closest late in the second half when his free kick from 35 yards out was tipped over the bar by Wang Zhenpeng.
Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin, a picture of disgruntlement, intimated at half-time that the absence of his key players was the reason for his team's fragmented play.
However, Ng said: "The results are secondary; what matters is that they play well and gel well."
South China will now meet Citizen in the semi-finals.
The other semi-final will be between Wofoo Tai Po and Southern.