In a few days, the Hong Kong national team will play their first game of 2017, when they start into the final qualifying round for the 2019 Asian Cup. On March 28th they face Lebanon in a difficult away game and meanwhile the team selection was not without controversy.
A few days ago, defensive midfielder Bai He announced on his Weibo account that he would resign from the national team. By referring to Kim Pan-gon repeatedly as the “Korean coach”, some speculated that Bai might have a political motive for his decision, which he strongly denied. Nevertheless, the defensive midfielder insisted that he will not be part of the team anymore as long as Kim is in charge, complaining about a lack of respect. Last Saturday, Bai He shot Eastern to a crucial win in the Hong Kong Premier League with two goals – and at least in that moment, Kim might have regretted his decision a tiny bit.
In his response, the head coach argued that he would like to give younger players a chance instead – although the timing for this change in philosophy could be questioned. The away game in the Middle East will be among the most exhausting games and given the number of key players that are missing the team could have arguably benefitted from experienced players like Bai. In fact, regulars such as Xu Deshuai, Paulinho, Itaparica, Alex Akande, and Lam Ka-wai are currently injured, while Godfred Karikari announced that he doesn’t feel fit enough, despite appearing frequently for Qingdao in China’s League One. In addition, Kim decided not to call in veteran players like Chan Siu-ki, Lo Kwan-yee, Chan Wai-ho, and Andy Russell.
On the bright side, there are in fact seven players in the squad who are under 25: Defenders Leung Nok-hang (South China), Wong Tsz-ho (Eastern) and Li Ngai-hoi (Pegasus, on laon from Kitchee), midfielders Tan Chun-lok and Lee Ka-yiu (Tai Po), and forwards Wong Wai (Tai Po) and Lo Kong-wai (South China).
Nevertheless, the average age of the team is still 28.3. Some also rightfully wonder why Kim doesn’t count on Tommy Chuck Yiu-kwok, who he called out for his “bad behaviour” in the past. But with seven goals for underdogs R&F this season, Chuck has enough quality to justify an appearance. And so does Southern’s James Ha by the way, who again was overlooked by Kim. Instead, the attack was completed by South China’s Lo Kong-wai, who found the back of the net only once in 13 league games.
That all said, Hong Kong should really get a result in Beirut if they would like to keep their chances for the Asian Cup alive, which would mean that they have to secure the runners-up position behind – let’s face it – North Korea.
Before the first competitive group match on March 28th against Lebanon (KO Hong Kong time: 11 pm), the national team will play a friendly game against Jordan on March 23rd (KO Hong Kong time: midnight).
Full 22-men squad for away games against Jordan and Lebanon:
Goalkeepers: Yapp Hung-fai (Eastern), Wang Zhenpeng (Kitchee), Tsang Man-fai (South China)
Defenders: Jack Sealy (Changchun Yatai, CSL), Robert Affonso Jr., Wong Tsz-ho (Eastern), Festus Baise (Guizhou Zhicheng, CSL), Li Ngai-hoi (Pegasus), Helio (Kitchee), Lee Chi-ho (Meizhou Kejia, CL1), Leung Nok-hang (South China), Jean-Jacques Kilama (Tianjin Quanjian)
Midfielders: Ju Yingzhi, Leung Chun-pong (Eastern), Huang Yang (Kitchee), Lee Ka-yiu, Tan Chun-lok (Tai Po)
Forwards: Lee Hong-lim, Jaimes McKee (Eastern), Sandro (Kitchee), Lo Kong-wai (South China), Wong Wai (Tai Po)
28 Mar 2017 – Lebanon vs Hong Kong (23:00 HK Time)
13 Jun 2017 – Hong Kong vs DPR Korea
5 Sep 2017 – Malaysia vs Hong Kong
10 Oct 2017 – Hong Kong vs Malaysia
14 Nov 2017 – Hong Kong vs Lebanon
27 Mar 2018 – DPR Korea vs Hong Kong