Lunar New Year Cup
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Action from the 2019 Lunar New Year Cup at Hong Kong Stadium. Photo: HKFA

Lunar New Year Cup: Hong Kong select edged on penalties by Fernando Torres’ Sagan Tosu

  • The matches finishes 1-1 after 90 minutes before the J.League side win the shoot-out 4-2

A hard-working Hong Kong select XI were beaten on penalties by Japanese side Sagan Tosu in the Lunar New Year Cup on Tuesday and will have to be satisfied with a third-place play-off clash against Auckland City on Thursday.

Many of the 14,502-strong crowd had come out on Lunar New Year’s Day to see World Cup-winner Fernando Torres in action, and they were not disappointed when the Spaniard grabbed the opening goal on 38 minutes after a mix-up in the Hong Kong defence.

A harmless looking cross went all the way through to the veteran and he controlled and turned before crashing the ball past Leung Hing-kit and into the roof of the net.

It was a pity for Hong Kong who had worked hard to limit time and space for the star striker until that point. Hong Kong had arguably had the better of the contest until the goal and would have been disappointed to go in one down at the interval.

After a subdued opening, the hosts began to warm to their task after 20 minutes and looked the more likely to score.

Their best opening came when a dangerous ball whipped into the box was desperately headed over by the Sagan Tosu defence with the impressive Mahama Awal challenging. From the resulting corner, Travis Major had sight of his target and forced a smart save from Takuo Okubo in the Sagan Tosu goal.

Hong Kong Lunar New Year Cup. Photo: HKFA

Marcos Gondra was a persistent threat to the Japanese with a series of searching through balls, but as the interval approached, the Hong Kong select were dealt the sucker punch which changed the complexion of the game, and almost certainly manager Kevin Bond’s half-time team talk.

If this event is something of a trial for Bond, the former Pegasus manager who has been linked to the vacant national team manager’s job, it could be considered a success as his charges came out for the second half with renewed purpose, determined to take the game to Sagan Tosu.

“I felt very sorry for the players who worked so hard to stay in the game,” said Bond. “I thought we had coped with them well and were disciplined.

“I would have liked to have won because I think the players’ efforts deserved more from the game. All of the players were totally committed and gave everything. I couldn’t have asked for more from them.”

Sagan Tosu, who had substituted Torres at half-time, were on the back foot as more good work from Awal brought a chance on 50 minutes. He chased a lost cause, claimed the ball and closed in on goal before hitting his shot straight at the keeper.

The lively Paixia De Souza, a half-time substitute, was keeping Sagan’s defenders honest and David Lazari gave his marker a torrid time with a series of rapid breaks down the left.

On 75 minutes, with the visitors beginning to irritate the home crowd with some dubious time-wasting, Hong Kong finally got the breakthrough.

Hong Kong Select XI. Photo: HKFA

A trio of second half substitutes combined to great effect when Chan Siu-ki’s dangerous cross was deftly knocked down by Paixia leaving Junior Soares with only the keper to beat as he rasped the equaliser into the roof of the Sagan Tosu goal.

Hong Kong rode their luck a little after equalising as the J.League outfit probed for a winner. But time ran out and the game went to a penalty shoot-out.

Sagan Tosu made no mistake in expertly dispatching their four spot-kicks. For the Hong Kong side, Lazari’s effort was saved by the keeper, and Paixia blasted his decisive penalty against the underside of the crossbar.

Bond lamented their bad luck in the lottery of the shoot-out.

Hong Kong putting pressure on Sagan. Photo: HKFA

“It wasn’t our night. With penalties anything can happen, and unfortunately it just wasn’t to be for us this evening.”

The Englishman was understandably tight-lipped when asked about the Hong Kong manager’s job, which was reportedly offered to former Blackpool manager Ian Holloway last week, but said it is an enticing opportunity.

“I think the national team job is a great situation for somebody. I really do,” Bond said.

The Hong Kong select XI will now face runaway New Zealand Premiership leaders Auckland City on Thursday in the third-place play-off, while Sagan Tosu will face-off against Shandong Luneng for the Cup.