Coach Kim Pan Gon has announced the final squad for the last World Cup qualifier game next week against Qatar on March 24th.
Facing difficulties with the current defensive line (Jean-Jaques Kilama has been suspended due to accumulating too many yellow card and Chan Wai Ho is still injured), Kim has called up two newcomers – Andy Russell (South China) and Roberto Affonso Jr. (Eastern), who both ply their trade as centre-backs. Helio (Kitchee) and Itaparica (Xinjiang Tianshan) may also still have a chance for their debut for the representative team.
Aside from this new player pool, the biggest change to 2015 is the club affiliation. After their respectable performances against China, many team players were offered contracts in the Chinese leagues, especially the second tier (中甲) where Lee Chi Ho (Meizhou Kejia), Godfred Karikari (Qingdao Huangniu), Festus Baise (Guizhou Zhicheng), Jean-Jacques Kilama (Tianjin Quanjian), Paulinho (Shenzhen FC) and Itaparica (Xinjiang Tianshan) can now be found. Our only man in the Chinese Super League is currently Jack Sealy, who has already appeared in the first game for Changchun Yatai this season with a solid performance at right back.
Somewhat surprisingly, a few players have not been considered by Kim this time around. Au Yeung Yiu Chung has just returned to Asia from his Portuguese excursion, and aims to get into the starting XI of Guizhou Zhizheng. Youngster Brian Fok (Shanghai Shenhua) has been offered a loan contract in the second tier of the Romanian league, where he should get valuable playing time. Many fans are also still wondering why James Ha hasn’t been nominated this time around, as he has been by far the most successful local striker in this Hong Kong Premier League season.
Although Kim and the HKFA might face criticism in that almost 50% of their players are not ethnically Chinese, this has become a rather old and worn out argument. It should not be forgotten that the likes of McKee, Sealy, Naegelein, and Russell have grown up in Hong Kong, and the other naturalized players have by far exceeded the minimum FIFA requirement to obtain another citizenship (which would be 5 years), as they had to stick with the normal 7 year requirement of the Hong Kong immigration laws.
The team will leave for Qatar on Monday night. Once again, they have been promised a financial reward, which worked well for the goalless draws against China. A generous donor will pay HK$400,000 for a victory and HK$300,000 for a tie in Doha.
The full 23-man squad:
Goalkeepers: Yapp Hung Fai (Eastern), Wang Zhenpeng (Kitchee), Tse Tak Him (Kwoon Chung Southern)
Defenders: Jack Sealy (Changchun Yatai), Roberto Affonso Jr. (Eastern), Festus Baise (Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng), Helio (Kitchee), Lee Chi Ho (Meizhou Kejia), Cheung Kin Fung, Andy Russell (South China)
Midfielders: Bai He, Andy Naegelein (Eastern), Huang Yang, Lam Ka Wai, Lo Kwan Yee (Kitchee), Leung Chun Pong (South China), Itaparica (Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard)
Forwards: Xu Deshuai (Eastern), Jaimes McKee (HK Pegasus), Alex Akande, Sandro (Kitchee), Godfred Karikari (Qingdao Huanghai), Paulinho (Shenzhen FC)