On March 6th, 2019, Tai Po held North Korean league runners-up Ryomyong SC to a 0-0 draw away in Pyongyang. Now the New Territories side is rearing to return to the AFC Cup after a nearly 10-year-wait, with the decisive return leg just around the corner. The match will kick off on Wednesday, March 13th, 8pm, at Mong Kok Stadium.
Tai Po played away to North Korean side Ryomyong SC in Pyongyang on an overcast afternoon, on March 6th. To get to the isolated country, the Greens first had to fly to Beijing before making the trip into the top half of the Korean peninsula.
The weather was cold and dry, the surface hard and slippery, and travel fatigue was settling in. There was no official broadcast available, but luckily the staff of Tai Po kindly transcribed the events on the pitch.
Despite the difficulties, the Hong Kong side nearly opened the scoring in the first five minutes of the contest, with Australian striker Harry Sawyer firing a quick shot on goal. But he missed the target as the ball sailed just above the crossbar. Two minutes later, Igor Sartori broke through from the left and crossed into the center for Sandro, but the Hong Kong international was denied by the post. Ryomyong, having withered the early pressure, began to stretch the wings to look for a way in. With an average age of 21, the Koreans looked well organized, and it has been suggested that the team may be very much a U23 national team. However, the Greens stood firm. Ryomyong nearly took the lead in the 38th minute with a dangerous header, but Eduardo Praes was in front of goal to clear away the danger. In return, Wong Wai and Sartori were both denied in the dying embers of the first half by North Korean goalkeeper Ri Chol-song, and the teams retreated at half time all even.
The second half resumed and the most notable effort from the hosts was a header by midfielder Kim Kuk-Bom that rattled the post. As Ryomyong’s youngsters visibly began to tire, Tai Po started turning the screws and threw on fresh legs, with Lee Ka-yiu working the wings while Philip Chan Siu-kwan anchored the midfield.
The 84th minute saw Lee Ka-yiu place a sublime cross to Sandro, but the shot was wayward. The chance at a last-minute goal was thus gone. Both teams finished all square, with the Hong Kong footballing world waiting with bated breath for the return leg in Mong Kok on March 13th. Tickets are sold for HK$ 80, and can be purchased either on match day or via cityline.com.
After all, Tai Po coach Lee Chi-kin was satisfied with the result. Given the physical reputation of North Korean teams, he was glad to see his team had a few great chances playing away. On the following weekend, Tai Po completely focused on their Premier League encounter with Lee Man, which they won 2-0.
Captain Wong Wai was similarly upbeat, and believed that the lack of match experience of their young opposition worked in favour of the Hong Kong side. He praised the concentration of his teammates, as well as the 3000-strong local crowd that came to watch the game.
This is bound to be a cracking return leg, and we hope to see more people there to push the Greens on to the group stage!
Ryomyong SC 0:0 Tai Po (March 6th, 3:00pm Hong Kong time, Kim Il Song Stadium; Attendance: ~ 3,000)