With the support from 13,942 loud fans at the Hong Kong Stadium on Tuesday evening, September 10th, Hong Kong lost to Asia’s number 1 Iran with a goal on both sides of the break from Sardar Azmoun and Karim Ansarifard.
Up against the top side in Asia, Mixu Paatelainen named a very defensive line-up with only James Ha being the only attacking player. On paper it could be a 4-5-1 with youthful Law Tsz-chun and Tsui Wang-kit on each flank playing as defensive wing-backs, along with three defensive midfielders in the middle, it looked 6-3-1 at times of defending.
The match plan was clear to defend well and not to concede, whilst relying on James Ha’s speed to break on the counter. The defensive task proved to be a tough one, with Iran possessing clearly the better quality in the likes of Zenit’s Sardar Azmoun and Brighton’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Their first chance came after 11 minutes when these two combined, but Azmoun’s header was brilliantly denied by Yapp Hung-fai. Six minutes later, Hong Kong came close with a counter-attack when Huang Yang sent James Ha free down the left, who then sent a looping cross into the box for the overlapping Law Tsz-chun, but his touch was collected by the keeper. At 23’, it was the “Iranian Messi” Sardar Azmoun opening the account, who volleyed home after Karim Ansarifard setting up him. Azmoun later found Ansarifard with a dipping cross near the spot, whose aerobic bicycle effort was tipped over the bar by Yapp Hung-fai. Two minutes before the break, Hong Kong threatened again on a counter, but Law Tsz-chun’s one-on-one was blocked by the keeper, though Tan Chun-lok subsequently ran for the loose ball, he was a fraction slower than the defenders before the ball was cleared to safety.
As the game resumed after the break, Hong Kong maintained their defensive form and were restricting Iran mostly to off-target attempts from outside the box. However, Iran doubled their lead in the 54th minute through a great movement as Ansarifard swept home from 5 yards from a low ball from the right by Jahanbakhsh. With roughly half an hour left, Paatelainen started with his subs to maintain fresh legs, especially on the flanks by bringing on Cheng Siu-kwan, Chung Wai-keung and Alex Akande in order to keep the defensive form as well as preparing for a counter. In the closing minutes, Azmoun had chances to add on the score but was denied by Yapp Fung-fai who kept the scoreline at 0:2.
In the post-match press conference, Iran’s head coach Marc Wilmots described Hong Kong defense as a brick wall put against his team and was happy to have scored two to kickstart their WCQ campaign. On the other hand, despite acknowledging Iran being a fast, strong and difficult team to play against, Mixu Paatelainen felt disappointed to lose. The mix of defensive and quick players selected in the starting executed his game plan well and even had the chances to score in the first half. He was proud of the way the team fought and commented that “every player was tremendous” for the night. Last but not least, Paatelainen was also thankful to the home fans for creating a fantastic atmosphere for the team.
Hong Kong will next head to Iraq for the upcoming WCQ on October 11th.
1 Yapp Hung-fai
2 Tsui Wang-kit
3 Dani Cancela
6 Huang Yang
14 James Ha
15 Roberto Junior
16 Tan Chun-lok
17 Law Tsz-chun
21 Tong Kin-man
23 Andy Russell
20 Cheng Siu-kwan (for Tong Kin-man, 63’)
8 Chung Wai-keung (for Law Tsz-chun, 71’)
7 Alex Akande (for James Ha, 73’)
Match Highlights and Press Conference:
Credit: Now Sports