After a thrilling game between North Korea and host Chinese Taipei, who only conceded two goals, Hong Kong eventually qualified for the 2019 EAFF E-1 Football Championship ahead of DPR Korea due to their better goal difference. Team captain Huang Yang was awarded MVP of the tournament. The finals will take place in South Korea in 2019, although the exact date has yet to be confirmed.
Gary White’s men took on Mongolia on Friday, November 16th, at Taipei Municipal Stadium, fighting for the chance to qualify for the 2019 EAFF E-1 Football Championship finals. As North Korea was leading by a two-goal difference after the first two matches, Hong Kong found itself in a “score more goals or go home” situation, and could only wish for the best in the Taiwan-North Korea encounter later that day.
White adopted a 4-1-3-2 formation for the previous matches against Taiwan and North Korea, and while some expected that he would use the same approach for this decisive game, he fielded a more aggressive 4-1-2-3. Paul Ngue and Xu Deshuai were replaced by Alex Akande and Chung Wai-keung in the starting eleven to put pressure on Mongolia’s defence. The Huang-Wong pair in the midfield, Jaimes McKee and Sandro up front, as well as the back four remained unchanged.
Shortly after the start of the match, Hong Kong put huge pressure on Mongolia. Dani Cancela’s cross from the left found Sandro, but his header went just wide. In the eighth minute, Sandro delivered a shot on target but it was saved by Mongolia’s goalkeeper Orkhon. Hong Kong was controlling most of the game and the Mongolians struggled to defend the threats from McKee and Chung from the flanks.
Hong Kong continued to press up high, but had yet to find the back of the net. Wong Wai’s freekick from the right was cleared in the 14th minute, and five minutes later Chung’s low cross on the right found Sandro, but his close-range effort was once again saved by Orkhon. In the 24th minute, Dani was fouled right outside the box, and Sandro put the free kick in the upper right corner. Hong Kong had finally broken the deadlock, but still needed more goals.
A couple of minutes later, Chung set up Alex Akande, whose shot went just over the bar. Shortly after Hong Kong finally bagged the second goal. In the 36th minute, McKee found a loose ball in the box and grabbed a poacher’s goal. Hong Kong now led by 2:0.
The first half ended after one minute of stoppage time. Hong Kong had managed to push high up so far, and their aggressiveness created eleven shots and two goals.
Arguably, the referee made some controversial calls in this match, especially the disallowed goal at the beginning of the second half. Wong Wai’s freekick found Akande in the box, but the goal was disallowed for an alleged foul. Following the confusion, the Mongolians fought back quickly while most of Hong Kong’s players were still trying to get back into their half. Artag’s header beat Yapp, Huang Yang tried to clear the ball from the goal-line but it was too late. Mongolia pulled one back and Hong Kong was again under pressure to react.
And so they did. Hong Kong found the way back into the game and continued to test Mongolia’s goalkeeper. In the 55th minute, Hong Kong’s right back Tsang Kam-to curled the ball into the box, but Dani’s header was saved. But just two minutes later, Hong Kong scored again when Chung’s low cross found Sandro who found the back of the net and extended Hong Kong’s lead to 3:1.
Sandro scored his second goal, after receiving an assist from Chung Wai-keung. (Photo: Zinc Yeung / offside.hk)
Soon after Huang Yang was substituted by Leung Chun-pong, and White also brought in Xu Deshuai to replace McKee. Meanwhile, Hong Kong continued to create chances from the left. In the 75th minute, Xu’s cross found Sandro, who headed the ball towards the bottom right corner, but the ball only hit the post. In the 78th minute, Wong Wai’s corner found the unmarked Russell inside the box, but he headed just wide.
In the 80th minute, Mongolia almost scored another one, when Alex Akande’s tried to back-pass to Festus Baise. Nyam Osor made the interception and sprinted towards the goal. But Yapp reacted quickly and stormed out to block the shot. Yapp’s outstanding goalkeeping saved Hong Kong again that day. One minute later, Chung Wai-keung was substituted by Tan Chun-lok to regain more control of the possession, and in the 83rd minute, Hong Kong scored again from a set-piece. Festus Baise’s well-placed shot found the bottom left corner. Hong Kong led by 4:1.
In the 87th minute, Hong Kong scored again from an attack when Sandro linked up well with Wong Wai. The Tai Po midfielder made a key pass to Dani, whose effort was deflected by Akande. Mongolia’s goalkeeper couldn’t react on time and had to pick the ball from the bottom of the net. Hong Kong 5, Mongolia 1.
Hong Kong almost scored again in stoppage time, when Wong Wai’s effort from outside the box hit the right post. Soon after, the referee blew the whistle and Hong Kong had fulfilled their task: beating Mongolia 5-1.
Due to Hong Kong’s better goal difference, the group winner was only decided in the following match between North Korea and Chinese Taipei, and it meant that North Korea had to beat Chinese Taipei by at least three goals in order to advance. Both Mongolia and Hong Kong stayed to witness the final match of this tournament, and many away fans stayed behind as well and cheered “Formosa” to support the home team.
Taiwan fought well and held North Korea to a nil-nil draw in the first half, frequently closing down on North Korea and interfering with the control of possession. However, in the second half, North Korea started to exploit the exhausted Taiwan defence, scoring two late goals, which turned the match into an excruciating experience for the Hong Kong players and fans who watched from the stands. But thanks to the outstanding performance of goalkeeper Pan Wen-chieh and their disciplined defensive line, Taiwan was able to keep the scoreline until the very last second of the match. White and his players were getting immersed in the game as the time approached the end, and especially during the four minutes of added time. But few moments later they burst with joy and excitement. They could finally celebrate as the winners of the EAFF E-1 Football Championship Round 2. Hong Kong has only qualified for the third time since the East Asian Cup was inaugurated in 2003, and only for the second time since 2010. This also marked the successful finish of White’s first trial as head coach of Hong Kong. The next thing on the to do list is to recover from the stressful schedule and prepare for the 2019 EAFF finals, which will take place in South Korea next year and feature the national teams of South Korea, Japan, and China. The exact date has yet to be decided.
The offside.hk player rating for Hong Kong can be found here.
1 Yapp Hung-fai
2 Dani Cancela
3 Festus Baise
6 Huang Yang
7 Alex Akande
11 Wong Wai
13 Tsang Kam-to
22 Jaimes McKee
23 Andy Russell
29 Chung Wai-keung
Leung Chun-pong (for Huang Yang, 57′)
Xu Deshuai (for Jaimes McKee, 65′)
Tan Chun-lok (for Chung Wai Keung, 81′)
Photo gallery by Zinc Yeung (offside.hk)