Hong Kong continued their excellent start to their World Cup Qualifying campaign last Tuesday night, as they overcame a defensively tough Maldives side to consolidate their position at the top of the group. Jeff Hardbattle and Tobias Zuser bring you the match report of the reds’ first real challenge so far.
MATCH ANALYSIS (by Tobias Zuser)
After humbling Himalayan minnows Bhutan, coach Kim made four changes to his starting line-up: Lee Chi Ho started instead of Jean-Jacques Kilama at centre back, Huang Yang replaced Ju Yingzhi in midfield, Cheng King Ho took over right back/winger duties from Lo Kwan Yee, and Christian Annan had to make room for Godfred Karikari on the left. The rest of the side remained the same, following once again an offensive 4-1-2-3 strategy that mainly focused on quick attacking play down the wings.
However, the absence of captain Chan Wai Ho, who many consider as one of the more solid centre-backs in the Premier League, was once again very apparent and especially in the first few minutes the defence of Hong Kong looked shakier than usual. Luckily, goalkeeper Yapp Hung Fai, who wears the captain’s armband instead of Chan these days, is still in top-form and has the experience to restore calm whenever necessary.
It was clear from the beginning that Maldives would be a force to reckon with in this group. One week earlier they fought off the Qatari squad for more than 98 minutes, before conceding an unfortunate goal in the 9th minute of extra time. Starting from this year, the Maldives national team is coached by Bulgarian Velizar Popov, who follows a disciplined defensive strategy, with often more than six players staying behind throughout the entire game. At the same time, they try to disturb the opponents playmaking early on, increasing pressure in the midfield. Another reason for the current high of the team is captain and striker star Ali Ashfaq. In 2014, the 29-year-old transferred to Malaysian club Polis Di-Raja Malaysia (PDRM), who were promoted to the Malaysian Super League last season, where they currently sit in 2nd place behind Pahang.
As expected, the Hong Kong team had a hard time settling into the game, as Maldives successfully cut off Lam and Huang’s efficiency down the wings. It took some time and some good individual performances by Karikari and Xu in particular, who were both ever present during the early stages. Compared to Annan, Karikari has also demonstrated a bit more of creative edge when attacking and his stronger physique is definitely beneficial against tough defenders. However, for the coming games against Qatar and China, Hong Kong definitely needs to step up. Kim’s options are definitely limited, but the game against Maldives has shown once more that Hong Kong’s strengths are well rehearsed, efficient and quick set pieces. However, in order for this to happen, one might argue that the team needs more courage and ability to break through the centre from time to time, instead of limiting themselves to keeping games being played down the wings.
1 Yapp Hung Fai (C) — 16 Cheng King Ho (57′: 14 Jack Sealy), 2 Lee Chi Ho, 3 Festus Baise (YC: 86′), 13 Cheung Kin Fung (83′: 21 Kwok Kin Pong) — 4 Bai He, 8 Huang Yang, 10 Lam Ka Wai — 11 Godfred Karikari, 22 Jaimes McKee (78′: 12 Lo Kwan Yee), 7 Xu Deshuai
22 Imran Mohamed (51′: 1 Mohamed Imran), 6 Mohamed Arif, 7 Ali Ashfaq (C), 8 Rilwan Waheed, 9 Asadhulla Abdulla (41′: 10 Ali Fasir), 11 Mohamed Umair (46′: 14 Ahmed Nashid), 12 Ashadh Ali, 13 Akram Abdull Gani, 15 Ali Amdhan (YC: 66′), 17 Shafiu Ahmed, 19 Mohamed Rasheed
A minute silence was held at the start of the game for the late great Hong Kong and Seiko SC striker Wu Kwok Hung, who passed away on Monday after a battle with throat cancer. Another commemorative gesture was performed in the 10th minute, during which the fans applauded for 60 seconds, followed by “Wu Kwok Hung” chants in order to evoke the spirit of Hong Kong’s former No. 10. All of the offside.hk team would like to send their condolences to his family and friends in this difficult time.
MATCH REPORT (by Jeff Hardbattle)
With Hong Kong’s bright start to their lofty ambitions of playing in the 2018 World Cup Finals in their last encounter against Bhutan, expectations were high. Their opponents, however, were determined to take the game to the hosts and The Maldives caused several problems for the reds’ back line in the opening stages of the game.
The closest of these chances fell to Ashadh Ali in the 25th minute when, after finding himself in space just outside the penalty area, he unleashed a powerful shot towards goal. Thankfully, defender Festus Baise was there to block the goal-bound effort.
Hong Kong’s best chance of the half came when Karikari broken down the left hand side and delivered a dangerous cross towards Jaimes Mckee. The pace of the ball deceived the Pegasus striker, however, and he was unable to direct his header on target.
The home side started the second half strongly and nearly put themselves in the lead when Lam Ka Wai put Karikari through on goal, who managed to get his shot away but the ball was palmed away by the oncoming Maldivian keeper Imran Mohamed who picked up an injury in the process and was substituted.
The breakthrough was finally made in the 63rd minute, when a free kick fell kindly into the path on Xu Deshuai just inside the 18 yard box. The new Eastern SC signing controlled the ball well and calmly put the ball into bottom right of the net beyond the keeper to make the scoreline 1:0.
And just five minutes later, their lead was doubled when Bai He was fouled just outside of the box. The resulting free kick was left to Lam Ka Wai, who cleared the Maldivian wall with his low curling free kick and the ball sailed into the left of the next past the helpless Mohamed Imran.
Both sides had further chances to add to the scoreline, and the Maldives almost gave their visiting fans something to cheer about when in the 88th minute, Ashadh Ali got on the end of a cross from teammate Ahmed Nashid which flew just wide of the post.
The score remained unchanged, however, and it is now two out of two for Hong Kong, with their next game being the eagerly anticipated stern test away to China in early September.
Maldives coach Velizar Popov congratulated Hong Kong on their victory after the game, but also concluded that there is a rule “in football at this high level: When you miss 5 chances to score in an away game, you will be punished.”
Boos rang out more at the start of the match, when the Chinese national anthem “March of the Volunteers” was played for the Hong Kong squad. Chinese fans once more reacted angrily on social media, and it remains to be seen what impact this will have in the forthcoming fixture between China and Hong Kong in Shenzhen on the 3rd September.
63′ Xu Deshuai, 67′ Lam Ka Wai
OFFSIDE.HK’S MAN OF THE MATCH: Xu Deshuai
HOW TO QUALIFY
Hong Kong are currently competing in the 2nd Round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup joint qualification. In total there are 40 participating AFC members, divided into 8 groups of each 5 teams. Only the winner of each group as well as the four best ranked runner-ups will advance to the 3rd Round of the World Cup qualification while directly qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup. The remaining 4 runner-ups, the 8 third-placed teams as well as the 4 best fourth-placed teams will qualify directly for the 3rd Round. The other teams (the 4 weaker fourth-placed teams as well as the last in each group) will fight in a play off for the remaining 8 spots in the 3rd round.
The 3rd Round of the Asian Cup qualifiers will consist of 24 participants, divided into 6 group with each 4 teams. They will compete for 11 or 12 Asian Cup spots (depending on the performance of the United Arab Emirates in the qualifiers, as they will host the next Asian Cup).
3 Sep 2015 – China vs Hong Kong (TBA, Bao’an Stadium, Shenzhen)
8 Sep 2015 – Hong Kong vs Qatar (8 pm, Mong Kok Stadium)
13 Oct 2015 – Bhutan vs Hong Kong
12 Nov 2015 – Maldives vs Hong Kong
17 Nov 2015 – Hong Kong vs China (8 pm, Hong Kong Stadium)
24 Mar 2016 – Qatar vs Hong Kong