After winning Chinese Taipei on Sunday evening, Hong Kong challenged North Korea at Taipei Municipal Stadium at the EAFF E-1 Football Championship Round 2 on Tuesday, November 13th. Both teams were given limited time for recovery and preparation due to a tight match schedule. According to Hong Kong’s fitness coach Matthew Pears, the team focused on conditioning and recovery the day before. Manager Gary White decided to use the same squad and eventually the team drew 0-0 with DPR Korea, which is supposedly just the fifth tie in history between those two sides. Hong Kong as yet to beat North Korea.
Shortly after the start of the match, Jaimes McKee found a chance in the box on the right, but his attempt only hit the side netting. A minute later, Paul Ngue’s effort was saved by North Korea’s goalkeeper Ri Myong-guk. After that, the North Koreans slowly started to take control of the possession. Kim Yong-il’s shot was tipped out by Yapp in the 10th minute. The North Korea’s wingers were given more opportunities on both flanks, but their efforts were either denied by the disciplined Hong Kong defenders or saved by Yapp, who showed an outstanding performance that day.
39 minutes into the game, Hong Kong almost scored in a counter attack. Xu’s attempt from right outside the box was luckily denied by Ri Myong-guk, as the ball bounced off the goalkeeper’s body and hit the bar. That was the most dangerous chance created by Hong Kong in the first half. Gary White made some adjustments during the game, as Xu and McKee started to switch sides to put pressure on the opponents.
After the break, North Korea’s midfielders dropped back slightly, which gave Hong Kong’s midfield more space. Still, the Koreans almost scored in the 57th minute when Rim Kwang-hyok’s freekick hit the bar. Just one minute later Kang Kuk-chol’s shot was denied by Yapp. Hong Kong fought back and McKee found himself in good position in the 61st minute, but his shot went just wide.
It was an even game and both teams didn’t shy away from physical encoutners. Andy Russel collided with North Korea’s defenders and seemed to pick up a minor concussion. Yapp Hung-fai was fouled in the 71st minute when defending the goal but his bravery denied the challenge. At the same time, Paul Ngue was replaced by Alex Akande in an attempt to exploit the North Koreans’ increasing exhaustion.
Akande’s pace and work rate caused some immediate problems, similarly to what happened in the match against Chinese Taipei. In the 79th minute, Wong Wai’s long-range effort was blocked. A few minutes later, Lee Ka-yiu replaced the Xu Deshuai and took up a more defensive position. North Korea continued to put pressure on both flanks, but their efforts were denied by Yapp, and eventually the bar, which saved the day in the 88th minute. Shortly before the end, Akande found himself in dangerous position after a counter-attack, but his shot was blocked once again.
After hard-fought 93 minutes, the referee finally blew the whistle. Hong Kong and North Korea shared points, which means that the group winners will be only decided after the last matches on Friday, November 16th. Hong Kong will be playing Mongolia at 3.10pm, while North Korea will be facing the home team in the evening. In order to qualify for the EAFF finals in South Korea next year, Hong Kong would need to produce a better goal difference, which means winning against Mongolia by at least two goals, but the more the better. Of course, Taiwan could also help Hong Kong’s fortune with a surprise against North Korea.
In the post-match press conference, North Korea’s head coach Kim Yong-jun revealed that his players were “under stress” due to the limited time for recovery and preparation. When being asked why Rim Kwang-hyok dropped to a more defensive role after the break, the North Korea head coach said it was a tactical decision and he believed that Rim’s strength could be at use in the transitional play. Kim especially praised Hong Kong’s defence. Gary White also appreciated both the performance of the team and the fan support. The team will focus on recovery and he hoped the players will return afresh for the decisive match on Friday.
The offside.hk rating for each individual Hong Kong player can be found here.
1 Yapp Hung-fai
2 Dani Cancela
3 Festus Baise
6 Huang Yang
8 Xu Deshuai
11 Wong Wai
13 Tsang Kam-to
15 Paul Olivier Ngue
22 Jaimes McKee
23 Andy Russell
Alex Akande (for Paul Olivier Ngue, 72′)
Lee Ka-yiu (for Xu Deshuai, 82′)
Tan Chun-lok (for Sandro, 90+1′)