AFC Asian Cup 2019 qualifying

Hong Kong’s AFC Asian Cup dream crashes back to earth with 2-0 loss to North Korea

Two first-half goals to the hosts put Liu Chun-fai’s team on the back foot and they never recover in Pyongyang cauldron

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 8:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 11:20pm

Hong Kong’s AFC Asian Cup dream is over, with Liu Chun-fai’s team falling at the final hurdle in a 2-0 loss to North Korea in Pyongyang on Tuesday night.

Hong Kong had to win the match to progress to the Asian Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates next year but were quickly under the pump, with Jong Il-gwan’s 18th-minute strike handing the hosts the ascendancy.

Hong Kong had a look soon after but Xu Deshuai’s shot found the goalkeeper and only minutes later a tough task became near impossible when Pak Kwang-ryong found the net to make it 2-0 after only 24 minutes.

Liu’s side would not lie down, however, and won plenty of possession, creating opportunities but failing to hit the scoreboard.

An early injury to Helio Goncalves didn’t help Hong Kong’s chances of keeping the North Koreans out and they were lucky not to fall further behind as the Koreans pushed on in the second half.

Coach Liu said Goncalves’ injury proved a huge blow to the team.

“We were under pressure from the opening stages but the situation was not too bad until the substitution of centre-half Helio Goncalves on 10 minutes.

“He had to be replaced by newcomer Tong Kin-man. Tong’s substitution meant he had to play alongside two other defenders to form a three centre half defence. This is a new combination and allowed the opposition more chances. North Korea took the advantage.”

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Hong Kong were surprisingly well supported at a game that wasn’t televised in the territory, with a vocal group of fans doing their best to voice their support among the 32,000-strong crowd.

Hong Kong’s campaign produced one win, two draws and three losses, while North Korea joined Lebanon as the two teams from group B to seal their passage to the UAE.

Liu said North Korea were always going to be the stronger team and had the backing of the vociferous crowd.

“Fitness, tempo ... they were stronger. That’s why we always lag behind these top teams from the region. In the second half we played more aggressively with more control of the ball. Yes, we lost the game and it’s disappointing but the players showed good fighting spirit in the second half.”

Hong Kong goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai said his team was punished early in the game and could never recover.

“In the second half we got back into the game and had a change of tactics but still we couldn’t create real chances to test the opposition. Our speed, skill, physical size still need to improve in order to match these top teams in the region.

“The injury to Goncalves was a blow as he would have been strong enough to tackle his opponents, but our replacement Tong didn’t have a bad game.”