Hong Kong began their Asian Cup 2019 qualifying group B campaign in the Camille Chamoun Sports City stadium, Beirut, with a disappointing and tepid 2-0 away defeat to Lebanon.
Hong Kong are in one of, if not, the toughest Asian Cup 2019 qualifying groups and also have to face formidable opponents in the form of North Korea and Malaysia. An away defeat in the first match of a qualifying campaign is not the best of starts though there is still a long way to go and Hong Kong will have to raise their game to attempt to gain maximum points in their remaining fixtures.
There has been much debate about Hong Kong manager, Kim Pan-Gon, inclusion of several youngsters whilst leaving out experienced heads such as Bai He and Lo Kwan Yee who have thrived on the bigger stage in high intensity matches. While Hong Kong defended admirably against a superior Lebanese side, given Hong Kong’s lack of attacking thrust in midfield, further questions will be raised.
ASIAN CUP 2019 QUALIFYING GROUP B
Mohamad Ghaddar 27
Hassan Mautouk 34
Hong Kong 0
Hong Kong and Lebanon have not met too frequently in the past and the last head to head qualifying games the two sides played was as long ago as 1993 for World Cup 1994 qualifying. In these encounters, Lebanon defeated Hong Kong 2-1 in Hong Kong while Hong Kong held Lebanon 2-2 away. Lebanon came into the match with a record of 4 draws and a win (against Afghanistan) compared to Hong Kong’s less consistent record of two wins, two losses and a draw in the each sides respective last five matches.
In the first half, Lebanon dominated possession and with the home crowd roaring them on, passed the ball around comfortably and with ease. Lebanon had up to 82% possession such was their superiority. In the 27th minute, Lebanon took the lead when an in-swinging cross was met by number 22, Mohamad Ghaddar, who headed the ball cleanly past Yapp Fung Fai. Lebanon extended their lead in the 34th minute with number 7, Hassan Mautouk, who scored from an offensive corner after a backwards defensive header from Hong Kong was met by Mautouk who headed it in.
The only attacking penetration made by Hong Kong were some occasional solo runs by Jaimes McKee into the Lebanese opposition half. McKee, as for Eastern in the AFC Champions League, was virtually isolated and when McKee did make his forward runs on the ball, he was always tracked by several defenders and though he held the ball up well; every Hong Kong attack was blunted before they could even begin. Further Hong Kong forays into the Lebanese half culminated in several corners and one free-kick by Roberto which was punched away. In the second half, Tan Chun Lok, of Tai Po, rifled a shot off target in the 55th minute. In injury time of the second half, a thumping free kick by Hong Kong rebounded off the bar and the ball was scrambled away.
This has proven to be a disappointing start to Hong Kong’s campaign though now the task has been made more difficult and yet again, Hong Kong will face an uphill task to reach a major finals. Hong Kong will need to take maximum points from their home games and also hope their opponents slip up against each other. Some will argue that Hong Kong were in another group then the qualification route would be a smooth process but the quality and standards of a team are measured against whatever opposition they face and again Hong Kong have been left struggling against established teams, After several years on the slide, Lebanese football is on the upward trend again and this now seems to be a Hong Kong side which has peaked and reached their potential. There are many fringe players doing well in the HKPL and maybe it was time they were given their chance to shine on the wider stage; at least coach, Kim Pan-Gon, has begun to blood younger players in his squad and several got game time against their friendly against Jordan despite the 4-0 defeat.
Hong Kong will next face North Korea at home on June 13th and Malaysia away on September 5th. Interestingly, the former South China coach, Mario Gomez, is now the new manager of Malaysia national side after his stirring run of success with JDT. Gomez’s stock has risen after winning five trophies with JDT over two seasons including guiding the Malaysian champions to an unbeaten campaign in the 2016 league season. Gomez is well versed in Hong Kong football so Hong Kong cannot expect an easy ride against Malaysia with Gomez’s established and steady hand at the helm.
Photo Credit: Mohammad Ghaddar scores for Lebanon against Hong Kong. The Daily Star, Lebanon – Adnan Hajj.