A goal, any goal would do…
In recent world cup qualifying matches, Hong Kong had weathered the speed, guile and tactical nous of some of Asia’s finest teams though for little to no reward. For all their resolute defending and immense effort, something was missing, namely goals.
A goal, any goal would do…
Hong Kong’s loyal football fans had probably come to the point where it did not matter how Hong Kong scored a goal; for all they cared, it could have been a forty-yard pile driver, a tap in, an own goal, a deflected shot or a goalmouth scramble. They all count and it doesn’t matter who scores them and when.
A goal, any goal would do for Hong Kong’s long-suffering football fans who were looking for little glimmers of happiness in the maelstrom that is and has been Hong Kong for the past few months.
Hong Kong, interestingly, had not scored a ‘home’ goal in proper international competition since their 2-0 win at Hong Kong stadium against Malaysia in October 2017 in Asian Cup qualifying. The last time Hong Kong had scored any goal was back in September against Cambodia; again it was a youthful and exuberant Cambodia who were their opponent on this mild winter night and, again, it was not to be straight forward.
For football fans, who are normally quite fickle and impatient, goals are the barometer of success and the longer a goal drought lasts, the greater the discontent. Though at Hong Kong Stadium, a sense of realism has prevailed. Hong Kong are in an incredibly tough group and a draw against some of the leading Asian lights is a victory in itself. Hong Kong are competing and goals? Those are a wonderful bonus.
At an expectant Hong Kong Stadium, the crowd did not have to wait too long for the drought to end and in the 21st minute, James Ha swept in his shot. As the ball crashed into the top of the net, Hong Kong stadium erupted in sheer relief. Hong Kong had scored and all seemed right in the world, if only for a brief moment.
At half time, there was a changing of the guard as the now-retired Jaimes McKee bade farewell one final time on the pitch that he has graced so many times. As one established striker said goodbye forever then surely it would be the man who broke the deadlock, James Ha, to rise up to fill those empty ‘boots’ for the foreseeable future as he has staked his claim with his endless running and tireless effort which was reminiscent of his predecessor.
Good things come in often twos and it was up to the man of the match, Roberto Affonso, to score the second almost in slow motion. The ball seemed to take an eternity to hit the back of the net and when it did, the evening was complete. Hong Kong would be victors and the fans could finally bask in the moment and head home in high spirits.
Mixu Paatelainen, the Hong Kong manager, stressed the need for the Hong Kong team to help boost the morale of the general public.
“We represent Hong Kong and we do our everything (for the fans) and enjoy the moment. It is not the best of times for Hong Kong and one thing for sure is that we try our best to give a little joy for the supporters and Hong Kong people as well.”
As for Cambodia, hope springs eternal as they have a vision for the future as best exemplified by their dynamic duo of coaches, superstar Keisuke Honda and Argentine, Felix Dalmas. The former bought some glitz and glamour to the event and exuded a type of cool and calmness that you would expect from a national icon. Dalmas, an up and coming coach himself, was optimistic about his young side’s future:
“Our players tried and I am really proud and I am really proud of the way that they played even with a man down, still going forward and still trying to control the game and follow through with our (Cambodia’s) philosophy in soccer which is really clear.”
Dalmas stressed that Cambodian football is currently laying the foundations for a new generation to develop and thrive.
“Cambodia makes a deliberate choice (to develop youth players) because we do think of the future of the country as does the football federation. As you know, most of the team is under 23 and we will go to the SEA games after this so we really focus on the development of the country for the future.”
Goals, three points for Hong Kong, Cambodian football on the rise and a poignant goodbye; all small glimmers of hope and rays of light for a brighter future.
Photos by Dennis Lo