Tai Po were defeated 3-1 by North Korea’s April 25 in a fast and physical encounter on Tuesday, April 30th. The result that leaves the visitors firmly in control of AFC Cup Group I.
The crowd at Mong Kok Stadium had barely taken their seats when April 25 took the lead. The Koreans took a fast and aggressive approach from the start. After only two minutes, full-back Son Phyong-Il found space on the left and, when his Tai Po marker slipped, had time to float a cross for Kim Yu-Song to head home. The international forward’s header was not especially powerful, and Tsang Man-fai in the Tai Po goal should ve disappointed to allow it through at his far post.
Thus was established the pattern for the game as a whole, in which the visiting team was generally able to demonstrate tactical and technical superiority. Like their first goal, April 25’s second came from a cross, this time from the right as Son turned goalscorer. Arriving unmarked to catch the Tai Po defence ball–watching on 43 minutes, he gave Tsang little chance with the header.
In between, Tai Po had threatened the April 25 goal only sporadically, Joao Emir crashing a long-range drive off the crossbar for their clearest, and certainly most spectacular, chance. Generally, the Greens had difficulty progressing the ball through midfield, and often resorted to long balls to Harrison Sawyer. The tall Australian had a difficult evening with his back to goal, however, too often dragged deep and denied good passing options. April 25, meanwhile, demonstrated expert control of space both with and without the ball.
However, the visitors showed little mastery of game management, and generally allowed the match to proceed in an end-to-end fashion, declining to sit on possession. This created openings after the break for a somewhat rejuvenated Tai Po, who achieved a breakthrough in the 53rd minute. The popular Sawyer finally got his chance to attack the ball, rising to turn Lee’s right wing cross past An Tae-Song in the April 25 goal. It was a good piece of centre-forward play, Sawyer using his height and aggression to claim a cross to which he had little right.
Any impression of the match being finely balanced was illusory, however. Resumption of the ascendancy by 25 April was swift, though they had to wait until the 72nd minute to make the result safe with the fourth headed goal of the match. Son once again used his pace to beat the Tai Po defence and cross from the byline, for Kim to rush between his markers and nod in his second of the game. Tai Po will reflect how much better their guests used both width and the high ball, a consistent differentiator between the two sides all evening. Although the Greens brought on Sandro just after the hour to partner with Sawyer in a tall attack, they never worked this into a consistent threat.
With three games played, Tai Po now sit second in Group I with six points. April 25, with nine points, are firm favourites to claim the sole qualification place for the knockout phase. Kitchee, Hong Kong’s other representatives, claimed their first three points on Wednesday evening, May 1st, to sit third, ahead of Taiwan’s Hang Yuen.
Tai Po 1 – 3 April 25 (April 30th, 8pm, Mong Kok Stadium; Attendance: 4341)
Photos by Zinc Yeung, Ken Wu, and Chris KL Lau