Hong Kong hosted a FIFA World Cup finals once back in 1992. The person in charge was the Futsal legend, Victor Hermans, who retains the honour of being the only person to manage a Hong Kong team in a FIFA World Cup finals.
Hermans is a living legend and you know you have made it in sports, when your own Dutch national football association (KNVB), place your face on a mural alongside the likes of Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, Louis van Gaal and other Dutch legends, who have transformed and revolutionised the global game. Life will go full circle as the Netherlands are set to host the 2022 UEFA Futsal Championship from 19 January to 6 February 2022.
Herman’s achievements in playing and coaching have made millions of people fall in love with his passion: Futsal.
Hermans was happy to share memories of his three month stint leading Hong Kong’s in their first and only FIFA World Cup finals.
Hermans was an accomplished Futsal player and was player of the tournament in the 1989 Futsal World Cup. Later, an opportunity was offered to him to lead the Hong Kong Futsal Challenge.
“I was called by the person in charge at FIFA if I was interested in becoming a coach. At the time, I was an assistant coach at Roda JC.”
Futsal in Hong Kong
Hermans was excited by the new opportunity and had to learn about Hong Kong football through television footage and short films. Hermans deemed the standard of the players high enough to be competitive against the best teams in the world.
“I only knew Hong Kong football through small films and five a side. Futsal had not yet been played in an organized fashion in HK,” he said. “I chose 20 players from a pre-selected selection to get started. The quality of the players was good enough.”
Hong Kong is famed and renowned for its concrete fields and Hermans deemed the fields to be great surfaces to acquire and hone technical and close control skills.
“Yes, these fields can be used for many tournaments or projects. Training on these surfaces greatly increases the reaction of players.”
Preparation and Opposition
Victor Hermans is probably the most famous Futsal coach in the world and is forward thinking and his ideas have transformed team programmes globally. When Hermans was appointed the HK Futsal coach, he came with optimism and energy.
Unfortunately, in the overly-complex world of Hong Kong football politics, he faced some obstacles: a lack of training time with his squad as clubs refused to release their players, which in turn disrupted his own well-meaning preparations.
A ‘well-known HK football personality’ was seen as a major opponent, which, as a result, saw valuable time lost for the Futsal team to prepare properly; Hermans feels HK could have progressed further if he could train with the squad for an extended period.
“Yes, we had a good team but no experience at all with five a side football. If the HK club football managers had let me train in Hong Kong, and not just with three to seven people, Hong Kong could easily have coped well in the tournament.”
The 1992 Tournament
Hong Kong, as newcomers to Futsal, managed to play well against Poland in the first game and scored twice despite losing.
“I remember a lot. In the first place, although we played well and prevented Poland from dominating, we eventually lost 2-4 due to lack of experience.”
Hong Kong’s clash with Argentina ended up being a classic. Hong Kong needed to win in order to remain eligible to advance to the knockout stage. Even though the team lost in the end, it competed in a close game with the Argentine and even led for more than a half.
“In the second game against the current Futsal World Champions, Argentina, Hong Kong played much more consistently and it remained exciting until the last minute.”
Hong Kong managed to sign off in style with a 4-1 win over Nigeria to gain three points and some pride.
“The last game proved that my requests to play, but not receive, international players for the tournament had been very important. Nigeria with technical and strong footballers was not involved and brought international players.”
The 1992 tournament remains HK’s only appearance at any World Cup finals and the tournament should have kickstarted a glorious new era in the HK game yet was another false dawn.
The Best of the Rest
Hermans continued to observe the teams as they progressed in the 1992 tournament and drew comparison of the playing styles of Brazil and the USA — the two finalists — and his own nation, the Netherlands.
“Yes, Brazil’s approach was impressive — both on and off of the field. Brazil were very relaxed, sure of their style and relentless if necessary. Then the USA, who reached the final, playing an unorthodox style of Futsal. At 1992 in Hong Kong, you also saw after three years, that the Netherlands had started to sink because they no longer had a plan for the future with their Futsal programme and style.”
Hermans learnt from his short stint in Hong Kong and has applied his tournament experience to even greater successes, especially with Iran and Thailand, where he is revered as a groundbreaking and progressive coach who has changed the landscape of football in those two nations for the better.
Hermans continues to leave his mark on the football world as he has conducted both FIFA and UEFA workshops all around the world to help the grassroots development of the game. He is currently in the Philippines helping to share his love of Futsal with the wider population there.
Hermans stint in HK was short and bittersweet though he retains positive memories of the 1992 tournament. All experiences are a learning curve. Now, Hermans has achieved incredible success at different levels of football, especially with football leagues and associations that are willing to learn and adapt.
Hong Kong’s loss was the rest of the world’s gain as Hermans continues to spread his love of Futsal everywhere he goes.