D-Day for Hong Kong players as they try to win Chinese Super League promotion
Naturalised stars will play a major role on Saturday as their clubs try to win berths to the top tier of mainland soccer
Hong Kong players will be in the thick of the action as they try to win promotion for their clubs in China League One on Saturday, with three teams competing for two promotion berths to the top tier.
Tianjin Quanjian, Guizhou Zhicheng and Qingdao Huanghai are tied at the top of the table with 56 points before their last match of the season, hoping to win promotion into the Chinese Super League.
And all three title contenders feature Hong Kong players who took the short train journey in December 2016 to register as “home players” in order to play for their mainland teams.
Naturalised player Festus Baise of Guizhou, Godfred Karikari of Qingdao, Manoel dos Santos , better known as Itaparica of Xinjiang Tianshan, and Lee Chi-ho of Meizhou Hakka, are all Hong Kong internationals, and are likely to start, while Jean Kilama and Ng Wai-chiu, both of Tianjin, are unlikely starters after losing their regular positions in the team, along with Paulinho of Shenzhen.
Guizhou will travel to Xinjiang, setting up a possible clash with central defender Baise and attacking midfielder Itaparica, while Karikari of Qingdao will take on home side Dalian Yifang. Tianjin, current leading the standings with a better goal difference, will play hosts to Meizhou, currently sitting in 10th place but cleared of relegation threat.
Baise, who started in the last two friendlies for Hong Kong against Cambodia and Singapore respectively, said he’s enjoying life on the mainland. “I am having a good season with Guizhou and everything has been going very smoothly despite the fact that this is my first season in China,” he said. “The team, of course, are looking forward to winning promotion to the Super League next season.”
Despite being a strong central defender, Baise has also scored six times this season and it was his header in the dying minute that sunk visitors Tianjin 2-1 in their last match to keep their promotion hopes alive.
Tianjin, however, are still hopeful of making it to the Super League next season as their home match will be against unfashionable side Meizhou.
“The team spirit is still high and the players are confident,” said centre half Ng Wai-chiu. “The management has offered six million yuan as winning bonus for each of the last six matches of the season and although we lost our last game, it hasn’t deterred us from finishing the season on a high and winning promotion.
Qingdao’s away match against fifth-placed Dalian would be a difficult encounter, although the management also promised a lucrative 10 million yuan for securing promotion.