The Hong Kong youth squad received a timely booster when they defeated Macau 3-1 in the annual Interport Cup yesterday, but coach Ernie Merrick warned they needed to raise their game still further for next week's Inaugural Asian Under-22 Cup in Laos.
'We have to do a much better job if we want to do well in Laos,' said Merrick. 'We will have to play five games in 10 days and it will be very difficult for the boys.
'Macau gave us a tough game today and the match, for a while, could have gone either way. But I am happy the boys were able to hold on and were strong at the end.'
After Chan Pak-hang opened the scoring for Hong Kong in the 18th minute, the visitors created a couple of chances at Macau Stadium to add to the tally, but playing a physically robust game in the rain, they were unable to find the second goal, allowing Macau to come back when Torrao de Almeida equalised five minutes after the break.
But when their opponents started running out of steam in the closing stages, they took advantage with goals from second-half substitutes Lee Ka-yiu and Tsang Kin-fong giving them the victory.
'We don't have a strong determination to kill the game off,' said the coach. 'Once we are in the lead, we can't afford to drop off but have to score the second, the third to close out the game. This is very important at international level.'
Merrick singled out midfielders Tam Lok-hin and Ngan Lok-fung as outstanding, while goalscorer Lee also looked impressive after being introduced in the second period.
'You need determination to win a place in the team and Lee did a good job today to lift his chances,' he said.
Merrick will take a 23-strong squad to Laos where they will meet North Korea, China, Thailand, Cambodia and the hosts in group F. They will leave on Thursday before taking on Cambodia in their first match on Saturday.
A total of 41 teams have joined in the qualifiers which will determine the 15 places for the final round slated for 2013. The teams will play a single round-robin format with the top two teams from each group advancing to the finals along with the best third-placed team in the competition.