HK cautious ahead of difficult Saudis clash

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 July, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong would be content with a draw when they travel to Saudi Arabia tomorrow for a 2014 World Cup Asian zone qualifier on Saturday.

Both Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia were exempted from round one in the qualifying tournament because of their records in the 2010 qualifiers. But the Saudis, who missed out on a fifth consecutive finals appearance at last year's World Cup after losing the Asian play-off to neighbours Bahrain, rank the better side (92nd in the world), as Hong Kong (146th) were eliminated 3-0 on aggregate by Turkmenistan in the second round for 2010.

'We know they have been struggling, but it does not mean they are not good,' coach Liu Chun-fai said. 'We have to take a cautious approach when playing away, and it will not be a bad result if we can take one point.'

A traditional force in the region, the Saudis have been under pressure for results, changing their head coach four times since the start of the year, from former Real Madrid assistant coach Jose Peseiro to Saudi Nasser Al Johar to Dutchman Frank Rijkaard, who took up the hot seat just three weeks ago.

'They are under pressure to win under their new coach, especially as it is a home match, while we have nothing to lose,' Liu said. 'If we can defend well and launch quick counter-attacks, we stand a chance. But if we fail, we will face a tough game in the return leg.'

The match, at Prince Mohammed bin Fahad Stadium in Dammam, kicks off at 8.45pm, which should help Hong Kong's players. 'The heat will not be so fierce in late evening. It would be much tougher if the game was in the afternoon,' Liu said.

Hong Kong received a morale booster on Saturday when they defeated league champions Kitchee 2-1 in a training match at Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground. Strikers Chan Siu-ki and Chao Pengfei scored in each half, with Player of the Year Roberto Losada netting for Kitchee.

'We have been working together for almost three weeks, including a week-long training camp in Beijing,' Liu said. 'The boys have showed good progress, although there is always room for improvement. But they are all very experienced at international level and the team spirit is always high.'

The second-round draw has set up a number of intriguing ties, including Uzbekistan in a Central Asian derby with Kyrgyzstan, while Malaysia square off with arch-rivals Singapore and China take on Laos.