Hong Kong ended their 5-game winless streak in 2019 and earned their first win in the Mixu Paatelainen era with a deserved 2:0 win over 10-man Cambodia with support from 6,497 at the Hong Kong Stadium on Tuesday evening, November 19th. James Ha and Roberto Junior scored on each side of the half to secure Hong Kong’s first win in this WCQ campaign.
After some solid defensive performance over stronger opponents in recent games, Mixu Paatelainen was determined to record his first win for Hong Kong over the lowest ranking team in the group, Cambodia. Experienced left-back Dani Cancela returned to the starting after serving his suspension in place of Law Tsz-chun, while James Ha and Alex Akande were also given the nod to start at the front alongside Giovanne. Hong Kong fielded a 4-3-3, Mixu’s most attacking lineup so far whilst Tan Chun-lok and Roberto were given more offensive permission too.
The tactics worked out well at the start and Hong Kong started to threaten with high balls and down the wings. Hong Kong’s first chances came through long throws, but Leung Nok-hang and James Ha’s efforts were off target. The goal soon came at the 21st minute, when Roberto overlapped down to the right with Alex Akande, before delivering an inch-perfect ball at the goalmouth for the perfectly timed James Ha to sweep it past the keeper. It was also the pacey striker’s first-ever senior international goal. Falling from a goal behind, Cambodia grew into the game by regaining more possession and controlling the pace of the game at times, as Mony Udon went closest with a drive down the left before sending his attempt wide. However the physical disadvantage, some poor first touches and turnovers by Cambodia provided opportunities for Hong Kong to breakthrough, but the host lacked the final touch to add on the score. At the 36th minute, Alex Akande stole the ball at the halfway line and dribbled through his way to the ball, before passing to a no-man zone. The lead was almost doubled 6 minutes before the break when a James Ha backheel nutmeg finding Giovane, who sent a looping cross into the box for Roberto to clash with the keeper Keo Soksela.
The second half started off more evenly, as Hong Kong continued to attack through long balls to the wings, while Cambodia was keen to maintain their style of play through getting forward with short passes, both teams were hardly challenging the keepers. In the 53rd minute, Roberto set up James Ha again with a header, but this time the forward narrowly missed the end of the ball. Two minutes after, Orn Chanpolin tried his luck with a 30-yard shot going over the bar. With 12 minutes left on the clock, Cambodia’s captain Soeuy Visal received his marching order as he was shown his second yellow for kicking the ball out from Yapp Hung-fai’s hand when he was launching a quick counter-attack. Hong Kong also made their first substitution just after and only took 4 minutes to capitalise on the extra man advantage to extend the lead. It was Roberto again, who muscled out his defender to receive Dani Cancela’s pass at the edge of the box, before curling it the inner side of the net for 2:0.
The first win for Hong Kong in the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifying campaign makes Hong Kong remain at the 4th placed in the group, and 4 points above Cambodia at the bottom, and a point off Iran, who has another game in hand.
At the post-game press conference, Cambodia’s Felix Agustin congratulated Hong Kong for a good victory as well as praising the way his players played and their efforts of keeping their football philosophy of trying to go forward despite being a man down. Mixu Paatelainen felt his players executed the change of tactics in this match brilliantly even though it was their first time to play with this style under him. He also commented on the fantastic team spirit among the boys was the key to the win while everyone was keen to give their supporters and people of Hong Kong a happy moment to remember.
There was a ceremony during the half-time for the former Eastern and Hong Kong winger Jaimes McKee, who announced his sudden retirement over the summer at the age of 32. Always a fan-favourite because of his commitment, McKee enjoyed an international career with 53 caps and 12 goals under his name since 2014 and received his well-deserved sending-off by the 6000 odd fans inside the stadium.
The next qualifier would be away at Asia’s number 1 Iran next March. Hong Kong would head to Busan, Korea for EAFF E-1 Championship next month to challenge South Korea, Japan and China for the title.
1 Yapp Hung-fai
2 Tsui Wang-kit
3 Dani Cancela
4 Leung Nok-hang
6 Huang Yang
7 Alex Akande
14 James Ha
15 Roberto Junior
16 Tan Chun-lok
23 Andy Russell
20 Cheng Siu-kwan (for Alex, 79’)
11 Law Tsz-chun (for James Ha, 83’)
10 Wong Wai (for Roberto Junior, 88’)