Hong Kong no match for UAE in Asian Cup qualifier
The Gulf side show the big gulf in class as they easily win 4-0, leaving Kim Pan-gon’s men with a mountain to climb in remaining matches
They narrowed the width of the pitch by four metres at Hong Kong Stadium in the hope that it would restrict the visitors from the United Arab Emirates from scoring goals in Tuesday night's Asian Cup soccer qualifier.
But Ali Mabkhout proved UAE could have won on a ground the size of a cricket pitch as he scored a hat-trick and led his side to a crushing 4-0 victory and a step closer to qualifying for the 2015 finals in Australia.
Unbeaten UAE moved five points clear in the group standings, while Uzbekistan joined Hong Kong in second place on four points after a 3-1 win over Vietnam.
The Hong Kong Football Association had hoped its secret plan to win last night’s crucial home encounter – narrowing the width of the pitch to 64 metres – the minimum Fifa requirement for international matches – would create problems and hamper the group favourites.
But UAE had too much class and quality to be foiled by such mundane tactics as they turned on the style and produced a master class.
Diminutive midfielder Omar Abdul Rahman was the pick of the Gulf team, even outclassing Al Jazira striker Mabkhout with his vision and ingenuity.
With a left foot of pure magic, the Afro hair-styled Omar was a sublime creator – something that Hong Kong sadly lacks and a huge impediment as they try to qualify for the Asian Cup finals for the first time since 1968.
“It was a very disappointing result but we have to stay positive and believe we can grab a couple of points from our next two games in November before going to Vietnam in March for our final game,” said Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-gon.
“We still have a chance with three games left, but tonight we were beaten by a high-powered team who played at a different level to us,” Kim conceded.
Indeed, the sheikhs of swing from the Gulf were flying high on their magic carpets while Hong Kong struggled to string together any coherent attack, often relying on the high ball to their wingers out wide – Godfred Karikari and Jaimes Mckee – which was easily neutralised by the UAE defence.
The victory extended UAE’s unbeaten run to 15 matches – a golden run for Mahdi Ali, appointed head coach soon after the London Olympics last summer. He said it was all down to hard work and doing the small things well.
“We didn’t get to this stage by accident. We have taken care of the small details and I’m very happy with the way the team is playing,” Ali said.
“We are not just a team, we are a family and this togetherness helps. “Today is a special day for us, it is Eid [festival] and I know many people back home would have been watching this game. I’m happy we won in this fashion,” he said.
Hong Kong tried to close down the space for the visitors, but after the early minutes were spent probing with patient build-ups, the attacks on the Hong Kong goal began with venom.
Mabkhout’s first goal came in the 29th minute and then two more in the 54th and 89th as he collected his first hat-trick on the international scene with the aplomb of a master.
The crowd of 7,923 had begun leaving the stadium by the time defender Walid Abbas added the fourth goal in stoppage time.
Hong Kong were lucky. It could have been even more if not for the quick reflexes of goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai.
In one month’s time, Hong Kong travel to Abu Dhabi to take on the Whites (the UAE nickname) on their home turf. Hong Kong will most certainly have their hands full, but Kim remains an optimist.
“We had hoped to get a point tonight [from a draw] but it is not over. The good thing is our players didn’t give up and battled till the end,” Kim said.
Meanwhile, Boaz Solossa's thunderous equaliser rocked China's bid to reach an 11th straight Asian Cup when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Indonesia.
China, under caretaker manager Fu Bo after Juan Antonio Camacho was sacked in June, went ahead through Wu Xi in the first half at Jakarta's cavernous Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.
But Solossa's strike from the edge of the box denied China a valuable win as Saudi Arabia continued to lead group C with nine points after recording their third straight victory, 2-0 against Iraq.