The semi-finals of the Sapling Cup took place during the Easter holiday break, seeing both South China and Pegasus going through to the final. Nevertheless, the significance of the Sapling Cup remains questionable. For instance, in the match between Eastern and South China, the average age of both teams was 31.5, with the youngest player on the field being Sean Tse (24). The actual rule for the competition says that clubs have to bring in at least 2 U-22 players, though this restriction can be circumvented if they are willing to use a maximum of 4 overseas players at the same time. Naturally, most clubs choose the latter option. Jacob Panons rounds up the action.
EASTERN 0:3 SOUTH CHINA
(South China goalscorers: Liang Zicheng 30′, Felix Borja 29′, Ryan Griffiths 59′)
Straight from the off South China looked to try to break the deadlock early on when Sean Tse bent the ball round the back of the defence towards the back post with Borja looking certain to score, but his header was acrobatically saved by second choice Eastern goalkeeper Ho Kwok Chuen. The Caroliners striker also failed to score with his second chance after the rebound fell to him at an awkward height. Some great passing play between Michel Lugo, Lee Hong Lim and Xu Deshuai on the edge of the box lead to Eastern’s first real chance of the game but Xu’s effort was brilliantly saved by Cristian Mora.
South China grabbed their first goal of the match in the 18th minute when Chan Siu Ki skilfully took the ball round Wong Chi Chung on the right and chipped it over towards the far post for Liang Zicheng who headed the ball back across the face of goal into the far corner to make it 1:0.
The Caroliners were once again on the front foot in the 28th minute, when Griffiths knocked the ball down to Russell, who was denied by 39-year-old Ho Kwok Chuen by the latter spectacularly throwing his body in front of the ball. Just moments later, however, James Meyer carelessly lost the ball in the middle of the field. Sean Tse reacted quickly and laid it off to Borja, who accelerated down the right to calmly slot the ball into the far corner to double his side’s advantage.
Lugo forced Mora to pull off another great save when he glided past the South China defence and hit an effort towards the far corner only to be denied once again by the Ecuadorian.
Things went from bad to worse for Eastern in the second half when Ho Kwok Chuen comically slapped the ball backwards into Wong Chi Cheng’s head with the ball falling to Griffiths, gifting him with an open goal to give South China a healthy three goal lead and with it booking their place in the final.
A great performance by Caroliners goalkeeper Mora was a major factor in their emphatic victory, pulling off a number of fine saves to keep a clean sheet against the league leaders. Although there were a number of great performances within the South China team, mistakes from Ho Kwok Chuen, Wong Chi Cheng, and James Meyer cannot be overlooked.
Eastern will be hoping their luck will turn on the 3rd of April when they face Yuen Long at Mong Kok Stadium, while South China will look to gain some points on second place Kitchee when they face Dreams at Sham Shui Po Sports Ground also on the 3rd.
DATE AND TIME: 3:00pm, Monday, 28th March, 2016
STADIUM: Mong Kok Stadium
PEGASUS 1:0 RANGERS
(Pegasus goalscorers: Correa Da Luz (OG) 26′)
Tan Chun Lok threatened the Rangers defence early on when he chipped the ball towards the back post to try and find target man Adrovic, but the ball was turned away for a corner. A similar chance arose minutes later when Leung Kwun Chung managed to rise up and head the ball towards the far post, only for his effort to be dramatically saved by Rangers goalkeeper, Paulo Cesar. Pegasus broke the deadlock 25 minutes in to the game when Tan Chun Lok tried his luck again from the right with a whipped cross. Brazilian defender Correa Da Luz managed to intercept the cross, but the 29-year-old couldn’t help but watch the ball float into the top corner of his own net off the inside of his right foot to gift the Flying Horsemen a 1:0 lead.
Rangers looked to change their fortunes in the second half, and captain Roberto Fronza looked to lead by example when the Spaniard tried his luck an ambitious volley, only for it to fly wide of the post. Paulo Cesar encouraged his players to swarm forward in the last 10 minutes of the game, with Pegasus being overrun in defence and a goal mouth scramble almost lead to a late equaliser but Naumovski swooped in to scoop up the ball to diffuse the situation.
Pegasus will now face South China in the final of the Sapling Cup, which has been postponed from the original date of the 10th of April due to the latter’s League Cup final on the 9th. The new date is yet to be announced.
DATE AND TIME: 8:00pm, Tuesday, 29th March, 2016
STADIUM: Mong Kok Stadium