One goal makes the difference as Hong Kong pip North Korea to reach EAFF Championship finals
- Hong Kong end their campaign with two wins and a draw
- Hong Kong and North Korea finish on the same goal difference but Hong Kong score a goal more
Hong Kong smashed Mongolia 5-1 and then experienced an emotional ride to qualify for the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) Championship by the slimmest of margins in Taipei on Friday night.
Having dispatched Mongolia in an earlier game at the Taipei Municipal Stadium, Gary White’s charges were hoping rivals North Korea – needing three clear goals to win the tournament on goal difference – would trip up in the final match of the second round qualifiers. North Korea fell short, beating Taiwan 2-0, which was not enough as the final whistle blew to the massive relief of the Hong Kong team and their faithful 30-strong supporters.
In the end, Hong Kong and North Korea both finished on seven points with an identical goal difference, but Hong Kong scored a goal more and that made the difference.
Brazilian-born forward Sandro scored two goals, including a glorious 24th minute free kick, while Jaimes McKee, Festus Baise and Dani Cancela got on the scoresheet as well.
Coach Gary White was delighted with his charges as Hong Kong made it two victories and one draw in the Taipei qualifiers that began last Sunday. Hong Kong will join Asian giants Japan, South Korea and China in next year’s finals
“My players played fantastic. To play three games in such a short period of time, we managed to do that, it was unbelievable,” said 44-year-old Englishman White. “We could have scored 20 tonight. We were such a dominant force and we have the psychological edge [over North Korea] because they beat Mongolia 4-1,” he said before the North Korea-Taiwan game.
“We came into this tournament and nobody thought we could make it. I said to the players, ‘whatever you can conceive you can achieve’. That’s the famous quote which stuck to us.”
Asked how he thought about coming back to Taiwan, where he was coach until September, White said: “It was great because I had great memories [in Taiwan] and now we have made new memories with Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong’s two-goal hero Sandro said he enjoyed the “fantastic” victory.
“I’m so happy to have helped Hong Kong. To win by this margin was fantastic,” he said.
Hong Kong were on the attack from the start, testing goalkeeper Amarbayasgalan Saikhanchuluun in the seventh minute with Alexander Akande’s low shot. Mongolia almost put the ball into their own net in the 13th minute after a defender headed away a cross and the ball flashed across the goal for a corner.
Akande then sidefooted a shot in the 18th minute that was kept out with a brilliant one-handed save by the Mongolia goalkeeper. Hong Kong were pressing forward and it was only a matter of time before they were going to find the back of the net.
Andy Russell was given a yellow card for a rugby tackle on Ser-Od-Yanjiv Gankhuyag in the Mongolian box in the 19th minute before Hong Kong goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai was forced to pull off a save from Nyam-Osor Naranbold a minute later, the Mongolian slipping through the inside left channel before forcing a weak shot that was easily kept out by Yapp.
Hong Kong finally broke the deadlock in the 24th minute from a free kick after Cancela was brought down just outside the box. Sandro stepped in to curl in a perfectly placed shot that found the top right-hand corner of the net, eluding the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper.
Hong Kong extended the scoring in the 35th minute after another fine attacking move initiated by Cancela. The midfielder chipped in a cross that was headed down by a Mongolian defender right in the path of McKee, who reacted quickest to slot home from close range.
But Mongolia fired back and were rewarded with a soft goal in the 50th minute just moments after Hong Kong had a goal disallowed for offside.
Artag Narmandakh scored with a header from a loose ball after the Hong Kong defence failed to clear their lines and the Mongolian forward was able to score unmarked to make Hong Kong’s challenge that much harder.
However, Sandro gave Hong Kong hope with his second goal of the game, slotting home from Chung Wai-keung’s right-wing cross in the 57th minute.
Akande almost extended the scoring in 63rd minute at the end of a brilliant build-up but his weak shot was cradled by the goalkeeper to the frustrations of the Hong Kong camp.
Sandro came within a whisker of scoring a hat-trick in the final quarter of the game. Xu Deshuai’s left-wing cross in the 78th minute was flicked brilliantly by the Brazilian-born forward but his effort hit the upright.
At the other end, Mongolia almost scored again when Nyam-Osor Naranbold dashed clear in the centre but Yapp saved the day by stopping the shot with his legs.
Hong Kong’s fourth goal came from a goalmouth scramble when veteran defender Festus Baise scored after picking up Wong Wai’s free kick in the 81st minute.
Cancela then had the last touch with another free-flowing move in the 85th minute to give Hong Kong a massive boost to make it 5-1. Wong Wai almost made it 6-1 but his effort came off the post three minutes later.
White said: “In the beginning of our training camp, I asked every player what they wanted to achieve for Hong Kong and so many of them said ‘qualify for the next round.
“We tried not to sit back. We came up trying to score goals and not to concede goals.”