Football Association chairman Pui Kwan-kay praised the performance of Hong Kong despite their 3-1 loss to Iran in the 2022 World Cup Asian zone qualifiers in Bahrain. Playing their first international match in 19 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong were always going to be up against it, with their rivals boasting players such as Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who plays for Brighton in the English Premier League, and Sardar Azmoun, who plays for Russian club Zenit St Petersburg. Iran are ranked second in Fifa’s Asian rankings (Japan are first), with Hong Kong at 27th. “It was always going to be a difficult match as Iran had to win to keep their hopes alive in the group,” said Pui. “They pressured us from the first minute. There is a big gap between the two sides in every department and the result is not unexpected. Mixu Paatelainen has ‘fighting’ unit ready for World Cup qualifiers “But the boys’ fighting attitude does delight me. Even when we were 3-0 down in the closing stages, we did not give up hope and scored a late goal. We could not ask for a better result against a team like Iran as they also beat us 2-0 when they came here in the away game in 2019.” Matthew Orr’s header was adjudged to have crossed the line after the ball hit the crossbar and bounced downwards, following a cross by Wong Wai on 85 minutes, just a minute after Karim Ansarifard made it 3-0 for Iran. Ali Gholizadeh put them ahead midway through the first half after a number of early goal attempts before Vahid Amiri added to the tally after the break when his shot took a deflection off Hong Kong captain Huang Yang. Hong Kong manager Mixu Paatelainen was nevertheless disappointed as “we lost the game”. “I was in the belief that we could defend solid enough, not to concede any goal and score one goal against Iran which is a top country in Asia,” said the manager. “There were a lot of good performance but I am not happy that we conceded three goals ... We need to improve. “I can’t fault the players’ attitude, the players’ effort and the fighting spirit. I can’t fault that. It’s there. But like I said to the players in the dressing room, we don’t want to concede a goal. We need to get them the mentality that we don’t concede. We have to be determined and have to get the players know that’s first aim in any given match.” Striker Orr, who was making his international debut for Hong Kong, said it was a dream start for him. “I think it was a big challenge today and a big game for me against one of the best teams in Asia,” said the 24-year-old who scored 11 goals for Kitchee this season. “You cannot have a harder match to play for your first game of Hong Kong. I am very happy with my performance ... I managed to score a goal and this gives me a lot of confidence going forward. I think I can bring a lot to the Hong Kong team for the future as I am young and hungry to get better all the time.” Iran were five points behind group leaders Iraq before the match, with only the top team across each of the eight groups guaranteed a place in the next stage. Hong Kong ring changes for Qatar 2022 qualifiers in Bahrain In the other group C match, hosts Bahrain thrashed Cambodia 8-0 to move to the top with 12 points, while Iraq are one point behind and Iran remain in third place with nine points. Hong Kong have five points and Cambodia one. “The next match against Iraq will be even more difficult and it will be interesting to see how the coach and the players prepare for the match. Hopefully, they can improve after the first match,” said Pui. Next game “We must improve we don’t want to concede any goal against Iraq. Iraq is a good team as they beat Iraq before and that tells a lot the calibre they have. We will analyse the game take tghings we want to correct and deliver that to the players and make sure we are better against Iraq. That’s the only way. The Asian qualifiers were suspended in 2020 after the pandemic threw the world’s sports calendar into disarray. The Asian Football Confederation was forced to change the home-and-away format to a zone competition featuring all five teams in Bahrain this month to complete the group qualification. The top team in each of the eight groups will advance to the next stage with the four best second-placed teams.