Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Phoenix has Risen

I want to start with a bit of context. In terms of land mass China is nearly 9,000 times bigger than Hong Kong. It has a population almost 200 times the size of Hong Kong. The China football team is ranked 61 places above Hong Kong (November FIFA Rankings). The number of professional clubs, players and the resources at their disposal similarly dwarfs Hong Kong football.

Despite these advantages they could not score a single goal against us in over three hours of football. This is a remarkable performance. To me these two draws are at least as big an achievement as the 1985 victory because let’s be honest, in those days football in China was, at best, embryonic. There was no professional league in China until 1994, whereas Hong Kong had had one for decades.
I’m not going to talk about the disallowed goal when it appears that the ball crossed our line. There is no goal line technology at Mong Kok so we will never know for sure. These types of incidents happen from time to time and if you are involved in football, indeed all sports, you have to accept that you have to take the rough with the smooth. I’ve got over (just) Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, so China will have to get over this, as I’m sure they will when the rawness is gone.

Our team rode its luck in the away match (China had 40 attempts on goal) and I have made that point in a previous blog. Last night I thought it was much more even and although they had more possession and hit the woodwork, so did we and we had a goal disallowed too. We could easily have nicked it at the end when their goalkeeper came up for a corner leaving their goal wide open. A Hong Kong win would have rubbed salt in the wounds and at the end of the day I think a draw was a fair result.

I must pay tribute to Coach KIM, the other support staff and, in particular, the players. They played as a team and fought with spirit, determination and skill. The new players have come in and made a difference – the Chinese were right not to underestimate the multi-cultural nature of our team. The players may have different backgrounds but they have one thing in common, they love Hong Kong and are prepared to play their hearts out. I was proud of everyone involved.
Yet again the crowd was magnificent. The atmosphere was electric and the noise incredible. The relationship between the team and the fans is very strong and this has certainly contributed to our recent improved performances.

I believe that the recent improvements are symptomatic of the general development of football in Hong Kong. It is no accident or coincidence. Rather it is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. Through our work here at the HKFA we are trying to create sustainable structures and an environment where talent can flourish. Success in international sport is not rocket science but it does require a vision, strategy, the alignment of resources and lots of hard work.

Whilst the great performance of our team is undeniable, there is no room for complacency. We must remain grounded and continue to work towards even more improvement – there is still a long way to go. What we have to do now is use the momentum we have generated and capitalize upon it. We must translate the success of and enthusiasm for the representative team into other areas of football in Hong Kong including the Premier League.

When the draw for the WCQ was made and we were in pot 5, who would have thought that with one match left we would be in second place with a chance (albeit an outside one) of qualifying as one of the top 12 teams in Asia? I’m looking forward to the Qatar match; we have already exceeded my expectations and anything positive from here is a bonus. I know our team will be ready and willing to give everything.

Mark Sutcliffe, November 2015

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