Asian Games: heartbreak for Hong Kong as late lapses in concentration prove very costly against fired-up hosts
Hong Kong collapse in the second half to throw away the chance to progress as group winners, and instead qualify in third
Hong Kong were five minutes from completing a highly creditable Asian Games draw against inspired hosts Indonesia in a febrile atmosphere in Jakarta on Monday night before two late lapses in concentration handed them defeat and with it, the most difficult last-16 draw.
The 3-1 loss to Indonesia, who fought back from 1-0 down at half-time to leapfrog Kenneth Kwok Kar-lok’s side and advance automatically, thereby avoiding the cream of the competition, was Hong Kong’s first in Jakarta, but proved very costly as they were paired with AFC under-23 champions Uzbekistan in the last-16.
With the exception of a Son Heung-min-inspired South Korea, the Uzbeks are possibly the most difficult team to face in the round of 16.
It could have been so different. Kwok’s men got their noses in front five minutes before half-time in a cautious and uninspiring opening half.
Happy to sit back conceding territory to their hosts, Hong Kong’s greatest threat came on the break and it was those circumstances that saw skipper Lau Hok-ming ghost in at the back post and put Hong Kong in front against the run of play.
They saw out the half with the atmosphere souring both on the pitch and in the stands, and had one foot in the last-16 as group winners at the interval. But they immediately relinquished their advantage in the opening minute of the second half and galvanised the home team in the process.
How Kwok must have wished he were able to call on the two most influential senior players in his squad, with both Fernando Recio Como and Jorge Tarres Paramo missing the match through injury.
“We have two senior players injured, so we only played with one senior player throughout the whole game, but I believe my players played with spirit,” Kwok said.
“In the second half we lost a bit of concentration and conceded a goal. I believe this goal changed the game.
“Concentration is the key, and they need to learn from their mistakes,” he added.
That lack of concentration was to strike again as Indonesia pushed hard for the winner pinning Hong Kong back in their own half for the vast majority of the second half.
It seemed unlikely that Hong Kong could hold back the tide till the final whistle, and so it proved when Stefano Janjte Lilipaly ghosted through the Hong Kong back line to stab home the winner for Indonesia on 85 minutes.
As Hong Kong finally showed some long overdue ambition and pushed forward in search of an equaliser, they were hit on the break and Hanif Abdurrauf Sjahbandi capped a glorious comeback to make it 3-1 and ensure Indonesia progress as group runners-up much to the delight of the near 30,000 in attendance.
Despite ultimately paying the price for a conservative approach, Kwok later claimed he wouldn’t have done anything different with hindsight.
“This is the line-up we’ve trained with,” Kwok said. “We planned to play this way with our three senior players but unfortunately two of them were injured.
“We lost this game but I believe we learned a lot from it, and next game we will be better.”
Hong Kong must now regroup immediately with the clash against Uzbekistan approaching on Thursday.
“We will be defensive – we’ve been practising with four at the back and five at the back,” Kwok said. “They are a strong team. I’ve watched videos in the last few days to try to prepare. They are the team under pressure.
“I hope to have Jorge (Tarres Paramo) and Fernando (Recio Comi) back for this game.”
“We will fight our best and will try achieve the best result we’ve ever achieved at this tournament”
If Hong Kong are to advance past the reigning AFC age-group champions, who traversed their group with three wins, 10 goals scored and none conceded, their concentration will need to be at its sharpest. Or else, it will be a third straight Asian Games last-16 exit for Hong Kong.