Hong Kong were hammered 7-0 by Argentina in a friendly to mark the 100th anniversary of the Hong Kong Football Association. HK were 3-0 down at the break, through Ever Banega, Gonzalo Higuain and Nicolas Gaitan. In the second half, Higuain made it 4-0 before Lionel Messi came on for the last half hour and immediately scored two and made another in a sensational cameo.
He even found time to sign a shirt for a pitch invader
Kim Pan-gon, the Hong Kong coach, admits there was pretty much nothing he and his team could do to stop Messi when he came on, and somewhat optimistically hopes that Hong Kong can one day produce a talent of that class.
"It was very hard for us, I tried to get some players to mark him but he's just on a different level. Speed, technique, anticipation, it's just on a different level. We started the Project Phoenix three years ago with the goal of perhaps in 10 or 15 years producing a player like this, a player of that level or the kind of player who can stop that kind of player, so Project Phoenix is very important for us to catch up to world class players like that."
Christian Annan was the lucky player to get the great man's shirt. "He said I was the best Hong Kong player," Annan says. "I'll treasure this for life."
Annan says it was simply impossible to get anywhere near to the Argentine No.10. "You see him on TV and think you could tackle him, but no chance."
The Ghanaian-born player says the No.10 shirt will be going straight in a frame, to be hung in pride of place in his home. "I'll never get rid of this, not for any money."
Meanwhile, Argentina's stars are straight on the bus with barely a nod to the press. Messi looks like he hardly broke sweat. I think Angel di Maria almost looked my way when I shouted his name.
FULL TIME Hong Kong 0 Argentina 7. No easy games in football. Apart from when it's the second-best team in the world against the 164th. Hong Kong were quite decent for 40-odd minutes before letting in two late goals in the first half. The second half was all about the Lionel Messi show as he finally came on for the last half-hour. He scored two superb goals and was a fingertip save away from his hat trick. That's why he's the best in the world.
Was there any point to it all? The stadium was a little over half-full, but those who stumped up the ridiculous ticket fees will feel they just about got value after Messi's cameo. Questionable if Argentina learned anything, but they go home HK$30 milllion richer.
All in all, some enjoyable nonsense, and it's always good to see one of the all-time greats in the flesh. More reaction here coming up (if it's worth it)
ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS A pitch invader comes on and runs straight to Messi, who obligingly signs his shirt. That encourages a couple of others, who aren't so lucky. Fair dues to Messi. That fan certainly got his money's worth
GOAL LIONEL MESSI! Hong Kong 0 Argentina 7 84' Hong Kong give it away stupidly while trying to attack and Higuain pings it to Messi on the right wing. It looks dangerous, and he beats one, two ... three, four, Hong Kong defenders as he cuts in before lashing it in. Absolutely magnificent, although you don't see players like him too often in the Hong Kong Premier League. Two for him in less than half an hour
Hong Kong 0 Argentina 6 81' Ten minutes to go, Argentina look like they could add a couple more if they can be arsed. Can HK get a consolation? Probably not
Attendance tonight : 20,230. A hair over half. Hopefully those who stumped up for the ridiculously expensive tickets feel they've got their money's worth
WHAT A MISS HONG KONG! 76' Christian Annan is sent away on a breakaway and he plays in Karikari with only the keeper to beat. But it's more hari-kari than Karikari as thumps the chance miles over
GOAL MESSI-TINA Hong Kong 0 Argentina 6 71' The great man plays a one-two with Higuain on the right of the area and gets to the byeline, sticks it on a plate for Gaitan to score his second.
Gaitan comes straight off to be replaced by Di Maria. Mascherano and Pereyra also on for Perez and Gago
GOAL MESSI-TINA Hong Kong 0 Argentina 5 66' Messi's every touch is being cheered to the heavens. He's not actually done anything of note .. but then he plays a nice one-two and is through, and dinks the ball beautifully over Yapp. He is quite good I suppose
Hong Kong 0 Argentina 4 60' Substitutions ...
Pastore for Messi. Huge cheers as the superstar comes on for half an hour. Pablo Zabaleta's on for Ronacglia. Ju Yingzhi replaced by Leung Chun-pong.
Messi's first act is the give the ball away ... doesn't seem to matter much for the fans
GOAL ARGENTINA! Hong Kong mess about and give it away on the halfway line and Banega plays a beautiful first-time diagonal through ball to Gaitan on the right. He's clean through, but opts to square it left to Higuain who lashes in his second. 4-0 Argentina
Hong Kong 0 Argentina 3 50' Five minutes of the first half gone and HK get a first effort on goal, Karikari flicking the ball through for Naegelein, whose stretch for the ball leaves goalkeeper Marchesin rolling about in pain. HK knock the ball in, but a foul's given.
Meanwhile, big cheers as Messi jogs about and does some stretches in front of the South Stand.
Couple of subs for Hong Kong at half-time: Christian Annan on for Lee Wai-lim and Jack Sealy on for Lee Chi-ho ... but will we see any Argentina changes - and one in particular?
The BIG ARGENTINA SUBSTITUTION arrives - it's number 3 goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin on for second choice Nahuel Guzman
Second half underway
HALF-TIME Hong Kong 0 Argentina 3. Bit harsh on Hong Kong, who defended pretty well for most of that half and seemed set to go in at the break only one down. But two in a minute from Higuain and Gaitan have things looking worrisome.
The good news is that Argentina only have the likes of Messi, Aguero, Di Maria, etc to bring on in the second half
AND ANOTHER! Hong Kong 0 Argentina 3 42' Straight from kick-off Nicolas Gaitan gets the ball on the right hand side of the box and cuts inside Cheung Kin-fung before blasting in an unstoppable shot. 3-0 Just as HK looked to be getting to half time only a goal down
GOAL ARGENTINA! Nicolas Otamendi gets free on the left wing and puts in a brilliant cross. Chan Wai-ho can't reach it with his head and Wisdom Agbo fails to prevent Gonzalo Higuain getting a great header in, climbing to knock it low to Yapp's left
Hong Kong 0 Argentina 1 40' Mexican wave going round the stadium now as hardcore football fans get bored. Meanwhile Wisdom Agbo denies Higuain a tap-in after some nice play down the left by Argentina. Higuain then gets the ball in the net, but the whistle had gone for a foul
A fan tweets in with a novel suggestion for the HKFA:
Hong Kong 0 Argentina 1: 32' Argentina turning it up a bit now. Lee Chi-ho has to make a last-ditch tackle to deny Pastore a shooting chance then Huang Yang just manages to clear after Yapp tips a cross almost straight to an Argentine boot
Hong Kong 0 Argentina 1: 28' Yapp redeems himself a bit with a brilliant flying save from Higuain, who had beaten three Hong Kong defenders with some beautiful footwork in tight space on the edge of the box with his back to goal before turning and letting fly. Two corners to Argentina are then dealt with by HK
Hong Kong 0 Argentina 1: 25' Pastore comes close with a low drive from the 18-yard line that goes just past Yapp's right-hand post
24' Big cheers as Hong Kong mount an attack of sorts then bigger boos as the ref doesn't award what looked like a definite corner
18' 0-1 GOAL ARGENTINA! Yapp makes a meal of a shot from the right of the box, and it's eventually flicked away but only as far as the penalty spot, from whence Ever Banega half-volleys the ball into the ground and over Yapp. Was just about to write that Hong Kong had been defending well too
13' CHANCE! Gonzalo Higuain lifts the ball up to Javier Pastore on the left hand side of the box, but he blasts low and straight at Yapp Hung-fai, who does well to keep his legs closed to send it out for a corner which comes to nothing
11' Four kids behind me have not stopped screaming Messi's name since kick off. HE'S NOT EVEN PLAYING. I will have a headache by the end of this.
Meanwhile, the great man's image appears on the Jumbotron and gets the biggest cheer of the night.
Stadium is maybe 2/3rds full now - 'cheap' seats in North and South Stands mostly occupied.
8' It's been all Argentina so far as Hong Kong wisely adopt a rope-a-dope strategy before landing the inevitable killer blow. Argentina had a corner after less than a minute and have been basically camped in HK's half since, but haven't created a clear chance yet. Martino's team are playing a 3-4-3, I think, but it's hard to tell since they can afford just to leave one man at the back most of the time. HK 4-4-2
8pm We've had the anthems - boos for that of the People's Republic of China, and some yellow umbrellas in the crowd
And we're off !
750pm Ten minutes to kick off. North Stand full - that's where the HK$250 student and seniors tickets were available.
Messi's wearing yellow boots - a sign of support for the Occupy protests?
Okay, probably not
Some advice from a reader as to how the HKFA could have boosted crowd numbers (allegedly):
7.45pm 15 minutes to go ... by the looks of it the HKFA's prediction of a half-full stadium might have been optimistic.
One little titbit, the referee tonight is Japan's Yuichi Nishimura, who caused great controversy at the World Cup when he handed Brazil a ridiculously soft penalty in their opening game against Croatia. Let's see if he's as favourably disposed to the home team tonight.
7.30pm So that's just the eleven changes from Argentina manager Tata Martino to the team that lost 2-0 to Brazil in Beijing on Saturday. Guess he wasn't happy with that performance or something.
Crowd is still paltry with half an hour to kick off.
We spoke to a couple of fans before the game. Steven Jones and his seven-year-old son Dylan, buying HK$590 tickets, said he didn't even know there was a match until yesterday.
Another expat, who wanted to stay anonymous and thought the HK$1300 tickets were "reasonable" (!) said he only decided to come after police cleared away much of the Causeway Bay Occupy sit-in this morning.
715pm Well the teams are in, and if you're a fan of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria et al it's bad news, with Argentina's biggest names all starting on the bench:
Hong Kong: Yapp Hung-fai, Lee Chi-ho, Wisdom Agbo, Andy Naegelein, Huang Yang, Xu Deshai, Lee Wai-lim, Cheung Kin-fung, Chan Wai-ho, Godfred Karikari, Ju Yingzhi
Subs: Wang Zhenpeng, Leung Kwun-chung, Lam Ka-wai, Christian Annan, Lo Kwan-yee, Jack Sealy, Leung Chun-pong, Wong Wai, Chan Man-fai, Lam Hok-kei, Chan Siu-kwan
Argentina: Nahuel Guzman, Santiago Vergini, Leonel Vangioni, Fernando Gago, Nicolas Otamendi, Enzo Perez, Gonzalo Higuain, Ever Banega, Nicolas Gaitan, Javier Pastore
Subs: Sergio Romero, Agustin Marchesin, Pablo Zabaleta, Angel di Maria, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano, Martin Demichelis, Marcos Rojo, Federico Fernandez, Erik Lamela, Roberto Pereyra
7pm With just over an hour to kick-off, the stadium is ... well, not empty exactly but pretty close to it.
Outside, a steady stream of fans, mostly in Argentina strips, are arriving. There are barriers everywhere to contain the crowd that doesn't really look like materialising - perhaps that's why police removed them from the Occupy sites this morning, they must have been running low.
Supporters of Occupy are handing out posters with an umbrella logo, urging fans to "Support Hong Kong"
6.30pm Hello and welcome to Hong Kong Stadium, where HK (ranked 164th in the world) are going to face the might of World Cup runners-up Argentina (2nd).
Is an almighty upset in store? How long will Lionel Messi play? Will the stadium be more than half-full? All these questions and more answered soon ... kick-off is at 8pm.
Argentina are coming off a 2-0 defeat to Brazil in Beijing on Saturday, while Hong Kong beat Singapore 2-1 in a friendly. The standard of opposition for both teams will be somewhat different tonight.
We'll have all the team news in half an hour or so, hopefully.
Meanwhile, catch up with our coverage here: