Hong Kong face up to crucial games in Asian Cup soccer qualifiers
Hong Kong take on the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi today - the first of two matches over five days that will probably decide whether or not the city qualifies for the 2015 Asian Cup.
After playing the group leaders, Hong Kong will then host Uzbekistan on Tuesday.
Hong Kong is trying to stay in contention for the finals in Australia but their record in the competition is not great - they have not qualified for the Asian Cup since 1968.
Their current campaign got off to a promising start by holding Uzbekistan to an away goalless draw in the opening match, which was followed by a much needed 1-0 victory over Vietnam.
Coach Kim Pan-gon, who was in an acting position after the departure of Australian Ernie Merrick, got his job confirmed with those two results.
But in a setback, Hong Kong suffered a heavy 4-0 defeat at home to UAE last month. They are now third on the table, tied with Uzbekistan on four points with three matches left. Only the top two teams from each of five qualifying groups will go to the finals in Australia, along with the best third-placed team overall.
"We hope to get four points from the two games before we travel to Vietnam," said Kim. "We have had some good preparation this time and if the players believe in themselves, they can achieve it. It's time they proved their quality on the pitch."
All the mainland-based professionals in the Hong Kong squad were recalled for the campaign after the completion of the Chinese League two weeks ago, and are all likely to take up key roles against UAE.
Defensive midfielder Andy Naegelein is expected to move back to partner Wisdom Agbo in the central defence if the reliable Lee Chi-ho cannot regain full fitness after suffering from flu earlier this week. Speedy forward Godfred Karikari will have the task of testing the UAE defence, along with striker Chan Siu-ki.
"We must keep the ball as long as possible, not only to minimise the opponent's attacking chances," Kim said.
Also in group E, Vietnam must beat visitors Uzbekistan in Hanoi to keep their hopes alive.