Hong Kong will have to perform to the standard they set against Australia recently if they are to take anything from Uzbekistan in their opening Asian Cup qualifier, says interim coach Kim Pan-gon.
The players had their final practice session yesterday before next Wednesday's game. Kim warned that the Uzbeks are possibly the strongest team in group E, which also features United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
"They are the top team in the group and their level is close to South Korea or Australia whom we played last month," said the coach. "They are very strong physically and mentally as seen from their recent World Cup qualifying match against South Korea which ended with a 2-2 draw.
"Our defence must keep focused all the time especially when they have the chance of making fast breaks and set-pieces. If we can hold them well, we certainly have the chance of getting something."
Hong Kong had their best performance of recent times against Australia in the East Asia Cup qualifiers at home last month when holding out to the 85th minute before losing 1-0.
"We need the boys to perform to a similar standard against Uzbekistan," Kim said. "It's going to be difficult as we will be playing away this time and have to get acclimatised. But we must believe in ourselves so that we can finish the job well."
A worry for the coach is that there are still league matches this week before they set off for Tashkent on Sunday.
"We need a good recovery plan so that the players can remain fit and fresh against Uzbekistan," said Kim.
Both Kitchee and South China, which supply the majority of players, play in the league this week, against BC Rangers and Sun Pegasus, respectively.
"The association should have cancelled those games so that we can prepare better," said captain Chan Wai-ho. "It's a big game against Uzbekistan."
The domestic schedule has already frustrated Kim, who has not been able to spend as much time coaching the players as he wants.
Meanwhile, Citizen forward Sham Kwok-keung has ruled himself out of the final 20-member squad, which will be announced today, due to a knee problem.