Hong Kong celebrated their first win in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, when they beat Malaysia on October 10th after goals from Jordi and McKee at Hong Kong Stadium. Zinc Yeung offers a round-up of the night, additional reporting by Patrick Au-Yeung. Readers can find a photo gallery by Dennis Lo at the end of the article.
Hong Kong continued with a 3-4-3 formation that saw Jaimes McKee back in the squad as forward, while Xu Deshuai was allocated once again as right wing-back after his fine performance against Laos in the previous week. In addition, the three new naturalised players from Spain – Jordi Tarres, Nando Recio, and Dani Cancela – all started for Hong Kong.
Meanwhile Malaysia played in a 4-3-3 line-up, with Johor Southern Tigers captain Safiq Rahim as a false nine as the Malaysians were missing Shahrel Fikri due to injuries, although Darren Lok recovered in time to be included as a substitute.
Both side started slowly into the game for the first 20 minutes. The closest chance was probably Godfred Karikari’s cross, which came close to goal. At the same time, Malaysia’s wingers Safawi Rasid and Syazwan Zainon had opportunities over the wings, but failed to find their teammates in the box.
Hong Kong started pressing higher after that and created some more chances. 23 minutes into the game, Roberto Affonso’s cross nearly lobbed over Malaysian keeper Hafizul, but he still managed to tip the ball over the bar. Just six minutes later, good link-up play between Jaimes McKee and Roberto allowed the R&F defender to cross again, but Karikari’s shot went off target. In the 32nd minute, Jordi intercepted Khairul Helmi Johari’s misplaced pass, but his long-range effort only hit the bar.
The turning point of the match came in the 41st minute, after Malaysian captain Safiq Rahim had been sent off due to a late and rough tackle on Dani. The guests seemed unsettled by the decision, with Syamer Abba picking up another yellow card, as he threw the ball in anger. It didn’t take too long for Hong Kong to take advantage of the situation and the home side opened the score in the 44th minute, when Wong Wai’s freekick was headed in by Jordi. As a result, Hong Kong led Malaysia by one goal at the end of the first half.
Malaysia reacted by putting on Darren Lok as striker position in the hope of getting an early equaliser, but Hong Kong still remained to be the dominant side, while Xu Deshuai’s crossing continued to be a threat similar to the friendly game against Laos on October 5th. In the 49th minute, Xu’s cross found Jaimes McKee unmarked, who just had to nod in the second and decisive goal of the game.
Hong Kong nearly extended their lead in the 61st minute, when Huang Yang’s long shot was controlled by Karikari, who then put the ball into the back of the net, but the China League One striker was ruled offside by the assistant referee. Nine minutes later, substitute Ju Yingzhi’s freekick found Jordi in the box, but his shot was blocked by the Malaysian defence.
Still, Malaysia kept trying to get something from the match and they were active in creating more chance during the last 20 minutes. Wan Zack Haikal’s free kick was close, but went over the bar and Darren Lok’s header went off target a few moments later. Eventually, the guests couldn’t stop Hong Kong from celebrating their first win in the 2019 UAE AFC Asian Cup Qualifying campaign.
In the post-match conference, Malaysian coach Nelo Vingada commented on Safiq Rahim’s red card, saying that he did not think Safiq intended that foul, while admitting that it was probably a correct decision to send him off. He added that he didn’t believe that their loss was due to the referee’s decisions and added that they had done a good job altogether.
Jordi, who scored twice in as many international caps, received a standing ovation from the 7,920 fans in the stadium, when he was pulled for Sandro 20 minutes from full time. Despite the one-man advantage, Hong Kong failed to score more, however, the victory was well deserved. In fact, the key victory earned them second position in the group after Lebanon crashed North Korea 5-0 later in the evening.
It was overall a very good performance collectively by Hong Kong. The defense manned by Dani Cancela, Nando Recio, and Helio was solid, while midfielders like Xu Deshuai, Wong Wai, and McKee orchestrated some nice chances for Godfred Karikari and a red-hot Jordi Tarres, who seemingly have the full confidence of coach Kim as his attackers.
Still, Hong Kong will face a tough challenge while taking on first-placed Lehanon at home on November 14th. However, nothing is impossible now for the Hong Kong side, as long as the chance of qualification is alive.
Photo gallery by Dennis Lo