Friday, November 04, 2016

Hong Kong & China October 2016

Five games in Hong Kong and two in the Chinese Super League.

From Heathrow to Hong Kong, arriving early Saturday morning.
After a coffee at the airport, a bus to Kowloon and my (basic) hotel.

22nd October  Southern District 7 Hong Kong FC 0  Premier League  239

For simplicity I took a taxi to Aberdeen for this opening afternoon match that turned into a very one-sided affair.
I expected it to be low key and indeed it was.

HKFC were poor with some defenders having the turning circle of an ocean liner and it ended as a facile win for the home side.
The opposition made Brazilian forward Wellingsson look like a world beater as he notched a comfortable hat-trick.

Expect HKFC to be relegated if it stays like this.

22nd October  HK Pegasus 1 Kitchee 3  Premier League  1,110

But the second match of the day, later in the afternoon,  was much more vibrant fare.
This was played in Happy Valley in the impressive main HK stadium (where the dark green seats are similar to those in the US) with skyscrapers as a backdrop.

Though as in all the games here the attendance was fairly small.

League leaders Kitchee looked like a decent team and they went ahead on 14 minutes when a Fernando free kick flew over the home goalie.
(Goalies are not a HK strong point)

Kitchee added a second eight minutes later and although Pegasus managed a penalty before half time it never seemed enough.
And a third via the left foot of Sandro soon confirmed the points would go to the visitors.

On a hot day (I had just missed the typhoon but humidity remained high) I walked back to Causeway and took the metro back to Tsim Sha Tsui.
Where the evening was spent in an upmarket local restaurant enjoying the fish and wine.

Afterwards I endured the usual enquiries as to whether I needed a new suit, or a dodgy watch or indeed a new SIm card. (All were declined)
And the rather annoying wait for a lift up to my 10th floor hotel.

23rd October  R & F 0 Wofoo Tai Po 2  Premier League  210

This match was played in Siu Sai Wan, reachable by MTR then minibus.
Beforehand I made a pre-game visit to Starbucks in the ‘Island Resort’

R&F are the younger version of their equivalent in China and they perhaps characterised an academy team showing good coaching but liable to make mistakes.
One such led to the opening goal when their goalie made a misjudgement and Lucas converted the subsequent spot kick.
The Portuguese would get the clincher in the final minutes from a breakaway.

A few minutes after that we had something of a mass brawl prompted by the actions of Ni Bo of R&F who received a red card.
Eventually that calmed down and the referee soon blew the whistle to end any more nonsense.

I returned on the MTR, took in a visit to the palatial Harbour City mall then chose kimchi and tempura plus a small beer.

24th October South China 2 Lee Man Rangers 4  Premier League  991

The morning was spent initiating the process for my Chinese visa followed by an iconic trip across the harbour on the Star ferry.
Up on the 55th floor of a Central tower block the views were ideal for some snaps of the skyline.

Meanwhile down in Mongkok the most successful club in HK were hosting the club with the Scottish connection.
It turned into the best match of the five I saw in HK often featuring end-to-end action.

Not that it began well for the visitors who allowed Serbian Komazec a nicely chipped opener.
LMR would soon replay when Lai converted a cross a couple of minutes later.

However another defensive error gave Komazec a straightforward second past a static keeper on the half hour.
The first period ended 2-1.

But the visitors always looked capable and they levelled with about twenty minutes remaining.
To the dismay of the home fans (it was about a 50:50 split) LMR finished strongly scoring two late goals in the final minutes.

That gave them their first league victory of the season and took them out of last position.
On another very steamy night I sampled a cocktail in one of the many bars close to the stadium.

26th October Guangzhou R&F 1 Liaoning 1  Super League  7,608 (c. 70 away)

Having picked up my visa the previous day I travelled by train to Guangzhou for this final R&F home game.
I stayed at a business style hotel, which was far better value than in HK, close to a metro station.
The name of the station (and the nearby campus) was South China Normal University, which of course prompted the thought - where is South China Abnormal University ?
And who goes there ?

Anyway most people I met seemed normal.

R&F play near the Sun Yat Sen Memorial & you walk past it on the way to the ground.
Where you soon get engulfed by those trying to sell unwanted tickets.
I enlisted the help of a local English speaker who soon directed me to the right option.

Inside there was clearly plenty of space, in a ground, and in conditions, that felt a little like some in South America.

As in HK (Guangzhou is a two hour train ride away) the temperature and humidity were high and hence we had a couple of drinks breaks.
After the mostly steady pace in HK we were back to serious action.

And it often featured Israeli star man Eran Zahavi who led most of the home attacks.
They struck the bar in the first half and edged the possession.

But it ended all square after 45.

Into the second period and though Zahavi gave R&F the lead with a decisive finish the visitors, from the colder North East, equalised when German defender Lukimya scored from close range.
It was a frustrating finish for the home fans whose team probably should have won but Liaoning certainly had threats.
In particular from free kicks when they, amusingly, had a player duck down in front of the opposition wall, a tactic that brought smiles but ultimately no success.

Back to Memorial for the metro ride home (where the carriages were still crowded even at 10pm)
And then the return train the next morning to HK.

29th October Eastern Long Lions 4 BC Glory Sky 1  Senior Shield  446

Earlier I had visited the excellent HK History Museum which does a fine job of describing both the geological and more recent changes to this dynamic region of Asia.
Maybe the accelerated growth would have happened anyway but it gives you the impression the British didn’t do a bad job overall.

Then one last HK game, this one at Tsing Yi which is on the way to the airport.
Again its a ground overlooked by apartments with views towards the cemetery.

Eastern, the existing league champions, have had some famous English connections including Alan Ball as an ex-player and Bobby Moore as an ex-coach.
But 1966 was a long time ago, as we England fans know.

On this afternoon they did not need help from World Cup winners to beat Glory Sky.
Although the visitors did take the lead when the useful Everton Camargo seem to deceive the home keeper after just ten minutes.
(see previous comment re goalies)

Glory Sky managed to hold that lead until the interval.
However that soon changed when two quick efforts (the first a cross/shot from wide on the right) from Lee turned things around.

The away cause was not helped by having their goalie injured for large parts of the game, he would eventually be replaced, and having tall sub. striker Raul Fabiani dismissed for an ugly ‘scissors’ type tackle later on.

Two late goals sealed the win for Eastern who went through to the semi-finals.
Again it was an easy return ride on the MTR followed by football to watch in a bar (Arsenal) while the Halloween activity was building up.

30th October  Guangzhou Evergrande 4 Shandong Luneng 0  Super League  42,537 (c. 300 away)

And so back to Canton to see the Chinese champions.
Again it was easy enough to buy a ticket and join by far the biggest crowd on this trip.

The stadium in the Tianhe area, fairly close to my hotel, is sizeable and reached via a road lined by more skyscrapers.
Feel the progress.

And checkout the philosophy - as it appeared on billboards along the way - ‘Democracy + Prosperity’, ‘Civility + Harmony’, ‘Freedom + Equality’, ‘Justice + Rule of Law’ and ‘Patriotism + ‘Dedication’.

Meanwhile inside the stadium the fans, with the ‘Canton’ flags prominent, enjoyed a celebratory evening.

Mainly because of the prowess of their Brazilian contingent.
Alan and Ricardo Goulart plus the skills of Paulinho in midfield were all excellent.

All that was too much for Shandong.

Goulart headed the first and set up the second (a superb finish from Liao Lisheng) giving Evergrande a 2-0 half time lead.
Alan was then brought down in the area and he converted the penalty for number three.

On 67 Paulinho delivered the pass for Goulart to deliver his second and the clincher.
The fans began the ‘Wave’ and the home side brought on youngster (born in 2000) Aokai Zhang.

For Shandong, who included Graziano Pelle and Papiss Cisse in their lineup, it was a night of frustration.
They certainly produced threats, hitting the woodwork and developing pressure, but could never quite get over the line.

But they did retain their place in the Super League while Evergrande, coached by Big Phil Scolari, ended seven points clear at the summit.

I decided not to stay for the final presentations (there didn’t seem to be any fireworks) and strolled back to the hotel with beer and nuts on hand.

The following day I returned by train to HK and onward to the airport for the long flight back to the UK.

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