AFC Cup participants South China AA hosted New York Cosmos at Hong Kong Stadium in their first venture into Asia for this year’s Lunar New Year Cup. The Cosmos had to come from behind twice to ultimately defeat the Hong Kong giants in a penalty shootout in a match that was highlighted by Spanish legend Raul’s first match for his new club after departing Qatar’s Al-Sadd.
Goals to Chen Siu Ki and Cameroonian Awal Mahama were both cancelled out by Sebastian Guenzatti and Andres Flores, before South China failed to convert two penalties to give the Cosmos a 4-2 shootout win.
South China’s new signing Awal had a significant impact down the visitors’ left side, terrorising them with his blistering pace and eye for space to get behind the Cosmos defence on numerous occasions. It paid dividends for the home side in the 19th minute, when he received the ball near the touchline with plenty of space to run into the penalty area.
Awal’s squared ball rolled into the path of Kong Wai Lo, whose attempt crashed into the upright before falling to Chen Siu Ki, who made no mistake on the rebound to score the opener past a stunned defence.
The Cosmos responded quickly, with Hunter Gorski’s cross sent into the back of the net with an impressive sideways volley by Guenzatti.
The visitors looked to press the home side as far back as possible, though occasionally had their progress reset by the pace of Awal’s counter attacks. Raul tried to threaten on numerous occasions from his position at the top of the midfield, but couldn’t catch goalkeeper Cristian Mora unprepared for his attempts.
Former Central Coast Mariners striker Daniel McBreen was forced off with injury in the 41st minute and departed for former Urawa Red Diamonds youth player Yuto Nakamura, as South China looked to adopt speed and push the Cosmos further back with more persistent counter attacks.
Minutes later, Awal played himself into space near the touchline to cross the ball into the box, narrowly missing the head of Nakamura before the referee blew to end the first half proceedings.
Awal added a goal to his impressive performance in the 65th minute, receiving the ball near the touchline in a similar moment to the first goal. His attempted pass was quickly blocked by the Cosmos defence, with the rebound falling to him to see him instead find the back of the net from a narrow angle.
Nakamura found himself against two Cosmos defenders soon after, when he was launched on a run towards the penalty area, but his hesitation allowed the rest of the defence to catch up to him and win the ball back.
As the Cosmos continued pushing forward towards the end of the match, South China made several substitutions, bringing on young Australian striker Evan Kostopoulos and Englishman Andy Russell, with Awal departing to much-deserved applause.
Russell found himself blushing in the 88th minute, when his attempt to stop Flores’ shot from the corner of the penalty area deflected the ball over Mora to give the Cosmos their second goal and the game’s equaliser to send the game to penalties.
South China were forced to substitute Nakamura for Brazilian veteran Itaparica with moments left before the penalty shootout, when Danny Szetela put his studs into the back of the Japanese striker’s leg during an attempted challenge.
Raul opened the penalty shootout with a clinical strike beyond Mora’s reach, before captain Chan Wai Ho and Hong Kong international Jack Sealy’s similar attempts were parried away by Jimmy Maurer’s gloves. Mora managed to make one save, but South China’s fates were sealed when Adam Moffat sent Mora the wrong way to give New York Cosmos the Lunar New Year Cup.
South China will resume competitive football next week, when they begin their AFC Cup campaign in the Philippines against United Premier League champions Global FC.