Hong Kong's hopes of qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup finals were left in tatters after they lost 2-0 to Uzbekistan on Tuesday night at Hong Kong Stadium.
The home side held the visitors for almost 90 minutes despite playing with just 10 men for the entire second half, before Vokhid Shodiev broke Hong Kong's hearts with a goal in the 84th minute. Odil Ahmedov tapped the ball home a minute before time to hand Uzbekistan the points in group E and leave Hong Kong with only a very slim chance of reaching the finals in Australia, with only the best third-placed team from the six groups qualifying.
The United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan claimed the two automatic spots from the group. Hong Kong will travel to Vietnam for their last group match in March with four points and in third place, but even victory there probably wouldn't be enough.
Still, Hong Kong can take some positives out of the match, watched by almost 6,000, with central defender Andy Naegelein the most impressive player on the home side. He still holds out hope the city can reach Australia. "We should never give up and even if there is a small chance, we should go for it," said Naegelein, who twice cleared the ball off the goal line before Hong Kong finally surrendered."We have done our best, but it was very difficult because we played with 10 men for the second half. We could have held them to a draw had it been 11 against 11. I am pretty confident we could have held them."
Fullback Cheung Kin-fung was given his marching orders on the stroke of half-time after collecting his second yellow for bringing down Sardor Rashidov near the edge of the box. Rashidov was a constant menace to the Hong Kong defence even though he failed to find the net. Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-gon said he was proud of his charges despite the defeat. "They did their best and showed a strong desire to win the game," said Kim.
"The saddest part of the game was that we had to play 10 men for the second half. Hong Kong citizens should still be happy with the way we played."
Uzbekistan had 38 attempts on goal with six on target and defender Kwok Kin-pong said the visitors' attack from the two flanks was excellent.
"Their two fullbacks were world class, delivering dangerous crosses from the two flanks," said Kwok. "Although we had only 10 men, we were able to hang in there until the last minutes. It was a great team effort."