Tuesday 27 April 2010

Youth Triumphs Over Experience in Hong Kong Division Three Playoffs

Ten-man Sham Shui Po sealed promotion to Hong Kong’s second tier as winners of the third division playoffs by beating fashionable local side Eastern 2-1 on Sunday 25 April 2010.

The division three “B” (districts) league champions, composed mainly of players from Hong Kong’s national youth team, scored in the final seconds of an exhilarating match littered with ten yellow cards and one red.

Lau Cheuk Hin was the hero as he struck the match-winning goal for Sham Shui Po with a sweet left foot free kick from 25 yards that dipped and swerved into the goalkeeper’s bottom left corner.

Eastern, the division three “A” (clubs) league champions who last season came ninth out of thirteen teams in Hong Kong’s top flight before dropping down to division three this season due to financial pressures, were full of seasoned professionals but were eventually outclassed by youth and a skilful free kick.

The crunch match was passionate and competitive, if bad tempered, that boiled over at times. Five yellow cards were shown in the first half, which finished 1—0 to Sham Shui Po.

The second half continued in combustible fashion. Within 5 minutes of the restart tempers flared both on and off the pitch following a reckless tackle by Sham Shui Po player #2 on Eastern player #21. Ex-Hong Kong and Eastern winger Lee Kin Wo #11 and team captain Au Wai Lun #7 led the protests, and a mass confrontation ensued that served only to increase the hostile attitude between the two sides. Eastern players were insisting that the referee issue a card to the Sham Shui Po player, who was lying injured on the ground along with their injured teammate.

To be fair, due to the rules the referee had to wait for the player to get back on his feet before issuing a caution. This delay in showing the yellow card and the players’ lack of understanding of the rules sparked Eastern players and their supporters into the angry mass confrontation. Eventually the referee awarded a yellow card to Sham Shui Po player #2 and play continued.

A few minutes later, the referee sent off young Sham Shui Po forward Yeung Chun Kiu #24 for kicking out at Eastern player Sit Fai Lung #18. Sit, who was fortunate to escape punishment for his gamesmanship, used all his wily experience as a player in Hong Kong’s top division to stamp on Yeung without being detected by the referee. This is why the young forward retaliated.

Having reduced their opponents to ten men, Eastern exploited their numerical advantage and equalized in the 57th minute. Eastern continued to press for the winner while Sham Shui Po was content to soak up the pressure with the knowledge that a draw was enough for them to win the playoffs.

However, Sham Shui Po managed to finish off the match in style from a free kick in the final minute. The atmosphere in Happy Valley was buzzing as the core of Hong Kong’s national youth team celebrated the winning goal in front of local fans who were mostly present to support the more well-known Eastern team.

Sham Shui Po will be playing division two football next season. Eastern, although beaten and demoralized, will also join Sham Shui Po after finishing second on goal difference in the four-team division three playoffs.

Football fans can expect further fireworks when these two teams meet next season.

[Final standings of the 3rd Division League Playoffs]

Video Match highlights to follow

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