A moment of madness: Hong Kong defenders go to sleep and concede soft goal in defeat by North Korea

Hosts finish second in the EAFF Championship after Jong Il-gwan races into the box virtually unopposed before toe-poking the ball home for a 1-0 victory at Mong Kok Stadium

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 10:12pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 November, 2016, 12:39am

One moment of madness. That’s all it took as Hong Kong suffered a lapse of concentration that cost them dearly, losing to North Korea 1-0 and making an exit from the EAFF Championship.

Watch: Fans chant “We Are Hong Kong!” during anthem before North Korea match

Hong Kong had gone into the game at Mong Kok Stadium with so much promise, but it was a defensive blunder that saw the North Koreans through to the tournament finals in Japan next year.

Speedy winger Jong II-gwan did the damage after the 2010 AFC Youth Player of the Year dispossessed Leung Kin-pong near the halfway line in the 22nd minute. He then charged down the left flank, easily outpacing centre half Festus Baise before beating two other closing Hong Kong defenders and finishing with a cheeky toe-punt that found its target.

Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-gon was unimpressed his charges had conceded a soft goal after constantly reminding them that a small error could cost them the game.

“We cannot afford making such a simple mistake. This happened tonight,” said the dejected coach. “We were not playing against Guam or Taiwan – teams that can allow us to play more freely. One mistake cost us dearly against a quality side like North Korea,” said Kim, who had promised fans a “historic moment” for his 140th-ranked team.

Despite a healthy crowd of 4,838 chanting “We Are Hong Kong” — even drowning the national anthem before the start of the game – the home team were left kicking themselves for not making it to Japan. Instead it was the hermit nation, who won all three of their games, maintaining their impressive record against Hong Kong with 14 games without defeat since records began in 1975.

The 2017 EAFF Championship final will also feature regional powerhouses South Korea and China.

Apart from the defensive hiccup, Hong Kong put up a spirited if somewhat disjointed display against the 120th Fifa-ranked team. The home side kept applying the pressure on their opponents but failed to create any real goal-scoring opportunities.

Indeed, the coach fielded eight naturalised players in the second half after bringing on Jaimes McKee who came in for Chan Siu-ki. But the goal proved too big a gap to narrow with the North Koreans needing only a draw to go through on better goal difference.

Kim looked at the positives despite defeat, saying he was not too disappointed as the tournament “served good experience for the forthcoming Asian Cup qualifiers which begins in March”.

“I must thank the fans for supporting us. They created a great atmosphere for us,” said the Korean coach. “In fact, I don’t feel we were too far away from our opponents, who were always going to be the quality side of the tournament. Their world ranking is not too high because they don’t play very often but in the end it’s good experience for us.

“North Korea were a far better side tonight than they were in their opening two games. They showed us they could raise their game when it mattered – they were disciplined and showed great fighting sprit and they were strong and physical.”

Alex Akande walked away as tournament top scorer with six goals as Hong Kong’s only other consolation in the event.

North Korea coach Jorn Andersen was delighted with his team’s performance.

“I have been working with the team for six months and it is important for us to win the tournament so that we can play in the final next year,” said the Norwegian.

In the early match, Taiwan scored their first win of the tournament following a 2-0 victory over Guam to finish third in the standings while the Pacific Islanders came last after three games without a win. Both goals came after Taiwan had the numerical advantage following an early sending off of Guam defender Alexander Lee for foul against Chen Chao-An. Wu Chun-Ching put them ahead in the first half before Lin Chieh-Hsun sealed victory in the closing stages of the game.