The upcoming World Cup Qualifier game against Qatar on March 24th will be the end of what will surely be remembered as a hugely successful campaign. Against all odds, the Hong Kong Representative Team has not only held China to two goalless draws, but also earned the respect and euphoria of the city across all generations. But all this glorification aside, what will be the final outcome in their World Cup qualifying journey? Can Hong Kong at least still dream about participating in Russia? Offside.hk looked at all the numbers and laid down the possible scenarios.
First, let’s not forget that we are dealing with a joint 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup Qualification system. The winner of the eight groups will advance to the next World Cup Qualifier round, where they will be joined by the four best runners-up to fight for the possible 5 Asian spots, of which 4 are fixed and 1 is a play-off against a CONCACAF team. Nevertheless, all the 12 teams will automatically book their tickets for the 2019 Asian Cup. Almost all the other AFC participants that don’t make it to the next World Cup Qualifying round will have to forget about Russia and instead continue with the Asian Cup qualification.
For Hong Kong, the situation is indeed a bit tricky. While there is no doubt that Hong Kong would make it into the next Asian Cup Qualifying rounds, there is still a hint of hope that the team might even be able to continue their way on the road to Moscow. Currently, Hong Kong is the 5th best runner-up across all the groups, and therefore have to hope (or better pray) for some rather unexpected results on the last match day. However, to keep the chances alive, there is one important precondition, Hong Kong MUST perform better against Qatar than China, who coincidentally will also face each other in the group’s final fixture. (March 29th).
Is that realistic? Hong Kong lost their home match against Qatar 3:2, with the guests being clearly the superior team despite a comeback in the last few minutes. However, Qatar have already qualified for the next round, and there could be the – admittedly tiny – possibility that they take things more lightly or are even inclined to use the remaining games to experiment with their line-up.
Now, if Hong Kong could indeed keep China at bay, that would unfortunately still not be enough, and a maths game would start that determines the four best runners-up that will be given the ticket to the next round. Most importantly, for this calculation the matches against the lowest ranked teams in the group are excluded. In the case of Hong Kong these are the matches against Bhutan, with the remaining games adding up to 8 points. So the table of the teams currently in second place currently looks like this:
|1||E||Syria||5||4||0||1||14||6||+8||12||3rd Round & Asian Cup|
|5||C||Hong Kong||5||2||2||1||5||3||+2||8||Asian Cup Qual.|
|6||A||United Arab Emirates||4||2||1||1||13||3||+10||7|
Scenario 1: Hong Kong draw with Qatar, China lose.
Hong Kong would then have 9 points and should therefore be theoretically able to land in the top 4. Unfortunately this turns out to be an impossible scenario, because the devil is in the detail. This is due to the match against United Arab Emirates and Palestine, who are both in Group A. Either of them would surpass Hong Kong if they win, and even with a draw Palestine would be the better-ranked runner-up due to goal difference.
Scenario 2: Hong Kong beat Qatar, China draw or lose.
In this case Hong Kong would have 11 points in the runner-up list, as the victories against Bhutan remain unaccounted for. Syria (12 points) are already out of reach and Uzbekistan have relatively easy matches against Bharain and Philippines left, in which anything other than 6 points would be a big surprise. However, the situation for Jordan is a bit trickier, as they have to face Australia away, who they nevertheless beat 2:0 earlier in the campaign. In the case that Jordan lose the game, Hong Kong may be able to fill the second spot. However, if Jordan go through, at least one of the other teams need to fail.
The first candidate would be Iraq, who cannot earn more than 2 points in their last two games against Thailand and Vietnam. Due to the unstable situation in Baghdad, both matches are going to be played in Tehran, so their home advantage will be nullified. Surprisingly, Iraq drew with these teams in their first meetings, so it’s obviously not impossible that this could happen again.
If Iraq win one of their remaining fixtures, it will go down to the match between United Arab Emirates and Palestine in Group A. Here, the most beneficial outcome would be a draw. In the case of a victory for UAE, they must still lose their final game against Saudi Arabia.
If that’s not enough fortune telling, there are actually two more scenarios that could shuffle things around for Hong Kong, though these outcomes stray more into fairy tale territory. Uzbekistan’s runner-up spot in Group H would be available if they were able to finish top of their group. That could happen if DPR Korea lose their last match against the Philippines in Manila.
Similarly, Australia could also still lose out. Theoretically. But while the outcome against Jordan might be more unpredictable, the fixture against Tajikistan is unlikely to cause any upset, after the Socceroos overcame them 3:0 in their previous match.
To keep things realistic, Hong Kong might want to start looking forward to the upcoming Asian Cup Qualifiers, which would also offer a great incentive – the possibility for two more matches against China. That cannot be guaranteed though.
On the other hand, shouldn’t we always ‘dare to dream’? If Hong Kong evokes a miracle in Doha, local fans would be able to just lean back and cheer for the apocalyptic disasters of other great footballing nations. How beautiful would that be?
PS: If you know of any other scenarios that we haven’t covered in this article, please share with us in the comment section!
While there might be several public screening around town, we recommend to join the offside.hk team at PolyU in Hung Hom, where some of the main fan groups will gather around 23:30 on Thursday, March 24th. Kick Off will be at midnight! (Bring your own drinks.) Alternatively, you can watch the match from your couch, as it will be broadcast live by TVB Jade.
Venue: Polytechnic University, Hung Hom (public square in front of the Shaw Amenities Building, also called “VA” core), 5 min. walk from Hung Hom MTR Station (Exit A or D).