Saudi Arabia ease past Hong Kong

Saudi Arabia ease past Hong Kong

By Yick Hong Lam - AFF Hong Kong correspondent

Hong Kong was defeated by Saudi Arabia by 3-0 in the first leg of their 2014 FIFA World Cup second round qualifier. The dream of progressing to the next round has become impossible for Hong Kong.

Saudi Arabia did it easy against Hong Kong

Not much had been expected from Hong Kong given that Saudi Arabia is a far superior team in terms of quality and World Cup history. However, not helping all that, the Hong Kong national team did not have the best preparation yet again. Although Saudi Arabia has not performed at their best internationally in recent years, showing signs of slipping back into the pack, they are still one of the more notable forces in Asian football. Without a proper preparation, Hong Kong could possibly suffer a shameful result.

Although the team had trained in Beijing for eight days in early July, things did not go well afterwards. In most of the later training sessions, only around half the squad attended, as players opted to attend club training session instead of the national team training, if there were any time conflicts.

Stand-in Hong Kong head coach Liu Chun-fai had mentioned the training sessions were planned to lift the players physical fitness after the long off season. The training sessions at the clubs at their current stage should be more or less the same, therefore he did not worry too much on the players’ absence.

However, we all know it should not be the way to go.

And there was more bad news before the match came. Ex-Hangzhou Greentown defender Ng Wai-chiu could not fight off the injury that has been haunting him since his return to Hong Kong football six months ago. He has been dropped from the team as he cannot obtain a 100% fitness, even though he is the top player in the Hong Kong team. On the other hand, the current Hong Kong league player of the season Lam Ka-wai, obtained an minor injury right before the flight to Saudi Arabia, which ruled him out of the away game.

As expected, Li Chun-fai kept his faith in young goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai and started the rising star, instead of Wei Zhao, who was fabulous in the domestic league last season. Long term partners Lee Chi-ho and Chan Wai-ho took up the center zone in the defense with Ng Wai-chiu absent.

Two relatively new faces in Hong Kong national team, Sham Kwok-fai and Chak Ting-funy took up right and left full back respectively. Without much dispute, the South China teammates, Chan Siu-ki, Lee Wai-lim and Kwok Kin-pong form the attacking trio, with Kitchee player Chu Siu-kei chosen over club teammate Lam Ka-wai in the playmaker role in a formation between 4-2-3-1 and 4-5-1.

Liu Chun-fai chose the versatile Kitchee captain Lo Kwan-yee as the second defensive midfielder, to play along-side Leung Chun Pong. Lo Kwan-yee told the media he accepted the role. He said he had played in all positions except goal-keeper in recent years, he will give his best wherever the coach play him.

The once young prodigy, who still has the record for being the youngest scorer in the Hong Kong league, started his career as an attacking midfielder, and now has settled as the starting right fullback in club football, showing his tactical sense and intelligence in his years in different positions. Liu Chun-fai made this decision probably based on Lo Kwan-yee’s good performances in defensive midfielder role in last year Asian Game.

From the beginning of the match, the four-time World Cup qualifiers, with their newly appointed coach Frank Rijkaard, showed their far superior quality and dominated the match. Hong Kong was forced to fall back to fill every possible hole to keep themselves in game. They nearly succeeded in keeping a 0-0 scoreline in the first half, while Saudi Arabia looked out of ideas, however a quick double in first half stoppage time ended that hope.

A nice through ball from midfield and the wrong timing of Yapp Hung-fai gave Nassir Al Shamrani an excellent chance to lob the ball into the net. He made no mistake with a left-footed lob that opened the scoring for Saudi Arabia.

Osama Al Harbi doubled the lead two minutes later by converting a free kick from midfield with a skillful header without any pressure from defenders, with Yapp Hung-fai once again coming out late to the ball.

When the second half started, Hong Kong once again shown their lack-of-early-concentration weakness. Nassir Al Shamrani collected his brace by scoring eight yards from the goal, as captain Mohammed Hawsawi provided a low pass from a right side free kick that caught the Hong Kong defenders napping.

However, as the game went on, Hong Kong re-grouped well and prevented a landslide defeat. When left back Chak Ting Fung was injured, Liu Chun-fai decided to sub in the in-form winger Lee Hong-lim. Kwok Kin-pong performed as a stand-in left back and Lee Hong-lim attacked down the left flank with his brother Lee Wai-lim on the right, before, Lee Wai-lim was substituted in 83th minute for Ye Jia.

This proved to be useless, however, as Hong Kong failed to provide any threat to Saudi Arabia for the period of time that they had an additional attacking player, before defender So Wai-chuen substituted for Chu Siu-kei in the 62nd minutes.

The return leg will be held at Hong Kong’s Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground on Thursday 28th July at 8:00pm Hong Kong time.

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