Hong Kong defeat gives Sutcliffe glimpse of huge challenge
New FA boss puts on a brave face as modest Malaysia side inflict drubbing on hosts, piling more pressure on coach Merrick
"It's not the end of the world". That was the verdict from Mark Sutcliffe, the new chief executive of the Hong Kong Football Association, after watching the national team in action for the first time.
It was an unpleasant introduction for Sutcliffe as Hong Kong were humbled 3-0 by Malaysia in the international friendly at Mongkok Stadium. Tasked with reviving the local game's fortunes by implementing the government-backed Project Phoenix, Sutcliffe got a glimpse of the enormity of the endeavour required. "We can't turn things around overnight. But this result is not going to encourage people to watch football," added Sutcliffe as he watched droves of fans walk away in disgust before the end of the game.
It was meant to be a match to highlight Hong Kong's potential. The VIP box included bigwigs from the government as well as the Hong Kong Jockey Club, both important stakeholders in the future of the game. But all of them would have wished they were elsewhere as Malaysia hammered in three second-half goals, all of which might have felt like coffin-nails for besieged Hong Kong coach Ernie Merrick.
Hong Kong were missing four key players, two of them not released by their clubs. That lack of experience, especially in the six-yard box, proved decisive as Hong Kong failed to turn half-chances into goals, especially early in the second half.
Merrick refused to be drawn into answering a question about whether he was getting full support from all the clubs.
But he conceded the run-up to last night's game had been "pretty unpleasant".
"This is something I will have to think about overnight but I can say I have had a pretty unpleasant last seven days".
But Merrick refused to use the non-availability of his best players as a reason for the defeat.
"There are no excuses," he said, pointing to the fact that Malaysia were missing nine players, and were a scratch side. But they hardly looked that as Malaysian captain Mohamed Sali, and subs Shafiq Rahim and Ahmad Saarani knocked in the goals.
It was a comedy of errors as far as Hong Kong were concerned, especially in the first half. They conceded possession on more than a dozen occasions.
The attack looked as toothless as a pensioner on a government MPF scheme with only one shot on goal and that from a counter-attack, with the midfield lacking creativity of any sort.
While Malaysia forced 11 corners and won three free kicks within range, the hosts could scarcely dredge up one corner.
The result will put pressure on Merrick, whose track record since arriving in Hong Kong in January stands at 3-3, but, significantly, all the defeats have come in the last three games.
"I always think positively and when I think I can't make a difference, I assure you I won't be around," said Merrick replying to a question relating to the pressure on his shoulders.
HKFA chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak voiced the feelings of the hundreds of fans when he said: "I'm disappointed with the result. We have lots of work to do."