State of emergency or not, Hong Kong still on high alert against Maldives in World Cup qualifying
Team remaining calm despite political unrest in Male
The Maldives might have lifted their 30-day state of emergency this week, but Hong Kong will stay on high alert tonight in Male as they prepare to prove they have the quality to progress into the next round of the World Cup qualifiers.
The Indian Ocean nation has been rocked by political unrest recently, but the Hong Kong team remain calm and focused.
They are buoyed by their 5-0 thrashing of Myanmar in an international friendly over the weekend.
Another good result at National Stadium in the Maldives capital city, Male, would be just the tonic they need before facing China in Tuesday’s crunch group qualifier at Mong Kok Stadium.
“As a coach, I feel excited at having the chance of turning a new page in Hong Kong’s history,” said coach Kim Pan-gon.
“We have three more matches in the qualifiers and the coming two, including the one against China next week, will be the most crucial.
“We are aiming for all six points before we play favourites Qatar in the last group match next year.
“It’s not easy to reach the target, of course, but not impossible.
“We fully understand Maldives would be a tough side and not easy to handle, especially with the home advantage.
“But we have come here strongly motivated to reach the next round and the boys are also determined to get results.”
Playmaker Lam Ka-wai said they had few worries about security in Maldives as the players were all focused on the game.
Hong Kong had requested to switch the match after the Indian Ocean nation declared a state of emergency last week, but Fifa decided to go ahead with the original schedule after receiving guarantees from the Ministry of Defence in Maldives.
Today’s match will now start earlier at 6.50pm (Hong Kong time).
“We have been escorted by the authorities all the time and are always well protected,” said Lam. “The atmosphere is not as tense as we though it would be.
“The weather is hot, just like our summer time, but we are used to it. However, I am more concerned about the pitch conditions as the surface has become very slippery after occasional rainfall here and our defence must pay full attention. But Hong Kong is an experienced side and if we can be patient in our attack, we certainly have a good chance of taking the three points home.”
Of the 40 teams in the qualifiers, the top team from each of the eight groups, along with the four best second-placed nations, will advance to the next stage where the top two from each of the two six-team groups will make it to the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
Hong Kong are second in group C with 10 points, three ahead of the mainlanders, who have one game in hand and will play against minnows Bhutan at home today. Hong Kong beat Maldives 2-0 at home in June.
Hong Kong has since been strengthened, with the arrival of three new naturalised players, forwards Alex Akande, Paulo Carreiro and Sandro, all from champions Kitchee, ahead of the Myanmar game. Both Akande and Sandro scored in their international debut, while another naturalised player, Jaimes McKee, hit a brace with striker Chan Siu-ki picking up one.