Merrick wary of vietnam test

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2012, 12:00am


Hong Kong will have to endure growing pains, warned coach Ernie Merrick, as the third game under his watch - against Vietnam at Mongkok Stadium on Sunday - presents a formidable challenge.

Hong Kong face the sternest test since Merrick (pictured) took over in January against a team in the world's top 100. Vietnam are 97th, while Hong Kong are a lowly 161. That gap reflects the task facing the home team who have won both matches under Merrick's tutelage - a 5-1 victory over Taiwan and a 1-0 win over Singapore.

'We are not going to win every game we play,' Merrick cautioned. 'Vietnam are a tough side who play at pace. But the important thing is we have to go out there looking for a win. There is no point in going for an honourable draw. We must play a brand of football which gives us the opportunity to win.'

The 59-year-old's footballing philosophy was shaped in his previous life as coach of Australian champions Melbourne Victory, a team he took all the way to the Asian Champions League. He is a firm believer that nothing comes to you - you have to go out and grab it yourself.

The Scots-born Australian, one of the first building blocks of Project Phoenix, the government-backed plan to revitalise the game in Hong Kong, believes the way forward is to adopt the twin strategy of playing an attractive style of soccer which will draw the fans through the turnstiles, as well as giving youth a chance.

His squads in the last two internationals have heavily favoured younger blood. And Merrick promises this will continue in the future.

'Hong Kong's future is in its youth. I began with the aim of reducing the average age of the squad, and this will continue to be the case, but having said that, experience also counts,' said Merrick. 'But we have to give younger players the chance to play at the highest level.

'We will lose games, but it is better to lose games fielding younger players. At least they get the experience of having played at international level, and hopefully will learn from that.'

Merrick has yet to announce his squad for Sunday's encounter, but it is likely he will retain the experienced duo of captain Chan Wai-ho and Lee Chi-ho as centre backs. He wants the spine of his team to be strengthened by wise old heads and, while he is content with his defence, the bigger concern is finding creativity in midfield.

'This is an area of worry,' Merrick admitted.

And coming up against a team ranked way ahead of Hong Kong will make the job even more difficult.

'This will be a tougher test but we have to be brave,' Merrick said.

Growing up is always not easy. Hong Kong's goal is to enter the world's top 100. It will take time - five years according to Merrick - at least until the youth of today mature.