Kitchee will help kick off the festive celebrations when they face fellow heavyweights Eastern in the Senior Shield final on January 22, rekindling memories of a Hong Kong tradition in the continued absence of the Lunar New Year Cup. The tournament has not been held since 2019 because of the pandemic, but fans will get a taste of tradition at Hong Kong Stadium on Lunar New Year’s Day. “We grew up in the days of the Lunar New Year tournament which was the biggest event of the year, especially in the late last century,” Kitchee head coach Chu Chi-kwong said. “It was the major activity on New Year’s Day as we went to Hong Kong Stadium to watch football after having the family gathering lunch. “We are happy to have a similar opportunity this time although the cast can hardly compare with those days of overseas teams coming here. But the first Cup final of the season on the festive day will still be a strong attraction. “A Cup final will always attract several thousand fans as two big clubs clash and added with the festival element, we hope to see more this time.” The Kitchee coach said he hoped his players can stay focused on the match despite the match taking place amid the festivities. “We will make adjustments to our training session on New Year’s Eve to allow players sufficient time to prepare for the festival,” Chu said. “Eastern are not easy to handle as they are still a quality side despite the departure of several key players in the summer.” Eastern head coach Roberto Losada, a former Kitchee player, said after their narrow 1-0 semi-final win over BC Rangers that Kitchee are in a different class. “Yes, our players may be more experienced in Cup finals with a better track record,” Chu said. “But this is a one-off decider, anything can happen. It will be a tough test for the players, both technically and tactically. There is no underdog in a final.” New twist as Ronaldo’s Saudi debut on hold over player quota Kitchee thrashed fellow heavyweights Lee Man 4-0 in the semi-finals, but needed a bit of luck in the quarter-finals, where they came back from behind with a 96th-minute equaliser against Southern before netting three times in extra time. In 2019, three overseas sides – Shandong Luneng of China, Sagan Tosu of Japan and Auckland City of New Zealand – joined the Lunar New Year Cup along with a Hong Kong League XI. Luneng won the trophy after beating Sagan Tosu 3-1 in the final. The Football Association tried to continue with the Cup in 2020, with a match between the Hong Kong representative team and a local League XI as it was feared no overseas teams would attend because of the anti-government protests in the previous year. However, the event was called off three days before it was set to be held when the Covid-19 pandemic began to hit the city. Meanwhile, Kitchee have also announced the arrival of former Hong Kong Footballer of the Year, Igor Sartori, as their first winter signing. The Brazilian attacker, who turns 30 on January 8, was the key to Wofoo Tai Po’s Premier League championship success in 2019. Sartori then moved to now-defunct R&F (HK) before joining Meizhou Hakka in China League One, helping them win promotion to the Chinese Super League in 2021. Sartori was with J-League 2 side Ventforet Kofu before returning to Hong Kong.