Coach Kim aims to make Hong Kong proud again in 2nd foray
The spotlight will be on coach Kim Pan-gon as he directs Hong Kong against home side Malaysia in a return international friendly at Kuala Lumpur's Shah Alam Stadium tonight.
Just two weeks after the South Korean took over the hot seat from Australian Ernie Merrick, they will be pressure on him to conjure up a quick change in fortunes for Hong Kong, who were thrashed 3-0 in the initial fixture on home soil last month.
The embarrassing loss in front of a 3,200 spectators at Mong Kok Stadium, hastened the departure of Merrick, who arrived in January on a three-year contract, but left after just 10 months. One of the missions of the former coach of A-League champions Melbourne Victory had been to help improve Hong Kong's world rankings, now hitting a historic low of 172nd, down from 168th when Merrick took over.
The defeat by Malaysia was Hong Kong's third in a row and Merrick complained afterwards that he was struggling to assemble a squad consisting of the best players. South China centre-half Lee Chi-ho, a Hong Kong team veteran, quit international duty prior to the match saying he would never play for Hong Kong if Merrick was in charge. His teammate Chan Wai-ho, also a central defender and skipper of the Hong Kong team, was sidelined due to an ankle problem. Speedy forward Jaimes McKee was not yet eligible as he awaited the issue of a Hong Kong passport.
However, the trio are now available. McKee has obtained his passport, while Chan has returned for his club South China, although he is short on match fitness. Lee has expressed confidence in Kim, who was his coach at South China from 2008 to 2010, and declared himself available for selection.
The Malaysians will still be the favourites, not only because of the previous result but because of the return of several of their key players, who missed the first match. "This is an important test before we play in the East Asian Cup preliminary qualifiers," said Kim.