HK's young guns face tough test in Laos
Five games in 11 days will test the discipline and mental strength of Hong Kong's younger generation at the inaugural AFC Under-22 Championships qualifiers in Laos, says coach Ernie Merrick.
The 23-member squad leaves today to face a tough task in their first tournament at regional level.
'They have to play five matches over 11 days and it is going to be a unique challenge,' Merrick said. 'Tournament soccer is different from one-off matches. You can't put everything into one or two games and then finish. You have to hang in there throughout the campaign, where discipline and the mental approach of the players are equally important.
'There are some players with significant potential. We have to provide an effective environment to learn and train to ensure they can represent the senior team in the future.'
Hong Kong are in group F, along with Cambodia, North Korea, Thailand, China and the hosts. The top two from each group and the best third-placed side will qualify for the 15-team finals to be held next year.
The Hong Kong team beat Macau 3-1 in the annual Interport Cup on Sunday with captain Lau Cheuk-hing (Sham Shui Po), and midfielders Ngan Lok-fung (Kitchee) and Chan Pak-hang (South China) producing standout performances.
'We all expect this tournament to be a difficult challenge,' said Lau, who got his first full international cap when debuting for the senior team against Vietnam two weeks ago. 'Playing away from home, against difficult opposition and having five games in 11 days will be very tough.'
Chan, who scored the opening goal in the Interport Cup, said: 'We are in good form after an extensive training schedule followed by a good match in difficult conditions against Macau. We are building a playing style that suits us.'
Hong Kong open their campaign against Cambodia on Saturday.