Tiny Timor should prove no trouble for Hong Kong in qualifying clash
On paper, East Timor are one of the weakest teams in world football. This should be encouraging for Hong Kong when they take on the Timorese in the idyllic island of Bali today in the opening round of 2010 World Cup Asian zone qualifiers.
'We are quite confident even though we know nothing about their football. But I would expect Hong Kong to do well,' said team official Albert Wong yesterday.
'An away win would be a great result, but we would be happy with even a draw or scoring an away goal.'
Hong Kong should not set their sights as low as a draw against a side ranked 200th in the world. There are not many more countries below East Timor in the Fifa rankings, and Hong Kong sit 66 places ahead.
Colonised by the Portuguese and formerly a part of Indonesia, East Timor became a sovereign state in 2002. A year later, the fledgling national team played their first international match against Sri Lanka, losing 3-2 in the Asian Cup. Things haven't got any better for the tiny nation's footballers since - they have still to win an international game.
Hong Kong coach Kenny Lai Sun-cheung will certainly not want his side to go down in history as the first team to lose to East Timor.
And this is probably why he will start with experienced goalkeeper Fan Chun-yip despite having included Citizen custodian Ho Kwok-chuen in the squad. Ho was tipped to make his Hong Kong debut, but according to Wong, the 37-cap Fan could still start. Perhaps Hong Kong do not want to take any risks of having egg rubbed all over their face by the Timorese.
'The final line-up will be announced [today]. It is likely that we will start with Fan,' Wong said. He also revealed that the absence of Cameroonian-born striker Gerard Ambassa Guy - who failed to turn up at the airport - should not have any detrimental effect.
'We have not called up a replacement as we believe we have enough firepower. But we will certainly be looking into why Ambassa failed to make it,' Wong added.
The difficulty of getting a flight to East Timor from Jakarta - the Ramadan holidays had resulted in a dearth of tickets - had seen the match being re-arranged in Bali.
Hong Kong had tried - unsuccessfully - to rearrange today's match to be played at home. But they will have home advantage next Sunday when the return leg is played at the Hong Kong Stadium.
Hopefully, the balmy Bali conditions will just be what Hong Kong, led by Happy Valley midfielder Cheung Sai-ho, will need to get their World Cup qualifying campaign off to a perfect start.
'It is not so hot here. It has been raining and despite the match being played in the afternoon, I don't think the weather will be a factor,' added Wong.
Let's hope neither are East Timor.