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Hong Kong’s Ju Yingzhi goes on the attack against India. Photo: HKFA

Hong Kong coach calls for return of domestic football after guiding team to historic Asian Cup success

  • Hong Kong close out their AFC Cup qualification campaign with a 4-0 loss to India, but their ticket to next year’s finals are secure
  • Football boss Andersen hopes the city can restart its domestic league and give players the experience they need to improve

Coach Jorn Andersen is hoping Hong Kong’s domestic football scene can avoid any further disruptions in the lead-up to next year’s Asian Cup after the Norwegian guided the territory’s team to the continental finals for the first time since 1968.

Andersen’s outfit, shorn of many of their most experienced players ahead of the start of the preliminaries, closed out their qualifying campaign with a 4-0 loss at the hands of India in a rain-soaked Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Tuesday evening.

But the defeat was inconsequential after Hong Kong’s earlier wins over Afghanistan and Cambodia, coupled with the Philippines’ loss against Palestine earlier in the day, ensured Andersen and his players secured a ticket to next year’s finals.

Hong Kong football boss Jorn Andersen watches on as Hong Kong face India. Photo: HKFA

“It’s still one year, so we have a lot of time,” Andersen said. “First of all I hope we can play football in Hong Kong again, we can start the league again. The league has now stopped for six months, what can I do? We can’t play matches in Hong Kong.

“I hope new young players can come out and I can have more possibilities for the future and try to build a team out of this team, build a team that we can create from game-to-game.”

Andersen’s squad had been denied match time in the build-up to the preliminaries after the Hong Kong league was shut down in January as the fifth wave of Covid-19 infections hit the city hard.

Hong Kong’s Wong Wai (left) and Huang Yang look to shut down Indian midfielder Jeakson Thounaojam. Photo: HKFA

Hopes were further hampered by an inability to call up players contracted to Chinese clubs due to travel restrictions and quarantine measures put in place on the Mainland, all of which meant expectations of success were minimal before the team’s departure for India.

Impressive wins over Afghanistan and Cambodia by an inexperienced side, however, proved enough to take Hong Kong through and Andersen’s team shone again on Tuesday, with the final score flattering the hosts.

Hong Kong threatened throughout the opening period and should have pulled level before Sunil Chhetri doubled India’s advantage in first half injury time. That they went behind inside the first minute, though, was a problem of their own making.

With only seconds on the clock, a quickly taken short corner caught out the defence and Anwar Ali smashed the ball into the roof of Yapp Hung-fai’s net after a failure to clear Udanta Singh Kumam’s initial centre.

Despite conceding that first minute goal, Hong Kong were on the front foot. Indian defender Sandesh Jhangir was forced to put over his own bar while Sean Tse was unfortunate to glance a header wide. Wong Wai’s attempt on the run moments later was just off target.

Matt Orr had the beating of right back Roshan Singh Naorem and sent in a cross that Sun Ming-him should have met to level the scores, but hesitation cost him a scoring opportunity.

Seconds later Yapp displayed all of his dependability between the posts with a reflex save to keep out Sahal Abdul Samad after the Indians broke through Naorem, the Hong Kong keeper pushing Samad’s shot onto the crossbar.

Sun’s touch was too delicate when he outwitted the Indian defence to meet Ju Yingzhi’s free kick into the box, his under-hit effort only finding the hands of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who was later left stranded as Orr headed Ju’s cross over.

Hong Kong’s Wong Wai vies for the ball against Indian midfielder Suresh Singh. Photo: HKFA

Hong Kong had dominated possession throughout the half, but another lapse in concentration saw the gap doubled before the interval.

Akash Mishra’s free kick found Chhetri unmarked and the veteran showed he has lost none of his quality with a sublime first touch to pluck the ball out of the air with his right before stroking home in the next movement with his left.

Chhetri would have added another for India six minutes into the second half but for another fine Yapp save as the rain hammered down.

The third did eventually come five minutes from time when substitute Glan Martins swept the ball beyond Yapp and the scorer turned provider in injury time as Martins set up Ishan Pandita to slip in a fourth for the Indians.

“We have a new and young team and we tried to press, we tried to play football, we tried to win the game and we made a great game, especially in the first half,” Andersen said. “But it was unlucky.

“I’m very proud of my team. We have played a good tournament. We knew before the game that we were through and with this team I’m very satisfied.”

Scorers: India (Anwar Ali 1, Sunil Chhetri 45, Manvir Singh 85, Ishan Pandita 90+3)

India (4-4-2): Gurpreet Singh Sandhu – Roshan Singh Naoren, Sandesh Jhingan, Anwar Ali, Akash Mishra – Sahal Abdul Samad (sub: Liston Colaco, 60), Suresh Singh Wangjam (sub: Glan Martins, 46), Jeakson Singh Thounaojam, Udanta Singh Kumam (sub: Manvir Singh, 60) – Sunil Chhetri (sub: Brandon Fernandes, 76), Muhammed Ashique Kuruniyan (sub: Ishan Pandita, 82). Substitutes not used: Laximikanth Kattimani, Amrinder Singh, Rahul Bheke, Subhasish Bose, Anirudh Thapa, Yasir Mohammad, Pritam Kotal. Booked: Suresh Singh Wangjam.

Hong Kong (4-1-4-1): Yapp Hung-fai – Yu Wai-lim (sub: Lau Hok-ming, 80), Fung Hing-wa, Sean Tse, Wong Tze-ho (sub: Jesse Yu, 78) – Huang Yang (sub: Wu Chun-ming, 84) – Law Tsz-chun, Ju Yingzhe (sub: Philip Chan, 56), Wong Wai, Sun Ming-him (sub: Jahangir Khan, 56) – Matthew Orr. Substitutes not used: Wang Zhenpeng, Paulo César, Ryan Lau, Diego Eli, Ngan Lok-fung, Leung Kwun-chung, Tomas Maronesi, Ngan Lok-fung. Booked: Huang Yang.