Thailand – Here We Come!
It’s now official, our U16 team has qualified for the finals of the AFC U16 2014 tournament due to be held in Thailand next September. To put the magnitude of this in context I am told that this is the first time ever that one of our junior teams has progressed to the latter stages of a regional tournament. That is quite an achievement and one that should be celebrated. More importantly it is success that should be built upon.
We finished in second place behind Australia in our group and qualified on goal difference as one of five best second place teams. This just shows you how small the margins are between success and failure at this level. Our goal difference was +1 if it had been -1, we wouldn’t have qualified. So just two goals difference over 360 minutes of football. Australia only beat us 2-0 and they missed many, many gilt-edged chances. Our progression to the finals is partly thanks to Australia being profligate in front of goal.
However, I think the main reason we qualified is that we hosted the Group stage here in Hong Kong. Home advantage was apparent in all of our matches but particularly the opener when we beat Singapore, probably our main rivals for second place. So in terms of football development, our decision to host the group stage has been vindicated but from a financial perspective this has cost us a lot of money, cash that we can ill-afford but money that I believe has been well-spent. We had also planned to host the U19 Group stage but we couldn’t afford to do both. As I write this our U19 team is preparing to take part in the qualifiers in a neutral venue (Malaysia). I wish them well but it is a difficult group and they won’t have the benefit of home advantage. If we are serious about the future of youth football in Hong Kong, we need a policy of bidding to stage tournaments – there is no substitute for competitions when it comes to developing players. They are not individual, isolated events, they are critical ‘staging posts’ along the development continuum.
As far as next year’s U16 finals are concerned, the hard work starts now. We must give this current crop of young players every support in preparing for the competition. They will be playing against the best young players in Asia, most of whom will be on full-time programmes at National Training Centres. We don’t have that luxury, well actually it’s not a luxury these days, it’s an essential requirement. Having watched all of the group matches I believe we have a team of talented and very keen players with lots of potential. In terms of technique, understanding of the game and strength and conditioning, there is room for improvement – as you would expect. We will have to do what we can with the resources we have to help them prepare for this prestigious competition. It is their big chance and we should not let them down.
Finally I would like to thank a few people. To the HKFA Directors for backing the bid to host the event and to Ken Ng and Kitchee in particular for helping us to generate revenue to pay for some of the expenses. To the Hong Kong Football Club for providing the venue. To the AFC for giving us the honour to be hosts and for their support in the organisation. To the small but vociferous supporters who came to watch. To the HKFA Competitions Team for their unstinting commitment and professional attitude throughout. To our coaching team and helpers for their dedication and expertise. Finally and perhaps most importantly to the players (and their parent) for their time, energy and love of the game.
Actually as a footnote, it would be remiss of me not to thank Australia, not for missing their chances but for being the only participating country to respond to my emergency appeal to provide a financial contribution to the tournament running costs. They didn’t have to but they did and I am grateful for their generosity.
泰國 — 我們來了！