The Blue Tigers lost to the nation in their last meeting in 2010.

India is gearing up to kick off their AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign and will face Hong Kong in the same on 14th June. The game will take place at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. Igor Stimac’s men have trained in Bellary, Kolkata, and Doha for the last few months. The Blue Tigers will face the Strength in their last qualifier and hope to maintain their impressive record. Hong Kong have met India 15 times as they won four, drew four, and lost seven games. 

Matches against Afghanistan and Cambodia will precede this fixture in the third round of qualification for the AFC Asian Cup. With a revamped and rearranged squad, Stimac has his job cut out to bring out the best in his men. A loss to Jordan in the last international friendly seems to have taken the wind out of India’s sail but they must rally back soon.

Hong Kong are currently ranked 147 in the FIFA rankings. Despite being ranked more than 40 places below India, complacency would easily unsettle Igor Stimac’s men.

Recent Performances

Hong Kong have been pretty active in training for the all-important AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. This year they have played three international friendlies but managed to win only one of them. While they drew to Malaysia’s U-23 squad, they lost 2-0  to their senior squad in their last international game. They will be meeting Afghanistan and Cambodia before playing India in the final game of the Asian Cup Qualifiers. 

About the Team

Currently ranked 147 in the FIFA rankings, Hong Kong have barely gotten through on the international stage. Their best result so far came in the Asian Cup in 1956 when they finished in third place. Apart from that, they made only two more appearances in the competition but were knocked out pretty early. The team, however, won the 2010 and 2011 editions of the Long Ten Cup.

However, they have been unable to overcome their group stage hoodoo as they fared poorly in their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying Group. Losses to Iraq, Iran, and Bahrain meant they were knocked out. A striking inability to score goals also came to the fore as they didn’t score even once in the entirety of their qualifiers campaign.

Their squad has primarily Hong Kong league players but includes a few Brazilian-born players as well. 

The Coach

Andersen currently manages the Hong Kong national side (Courtesy: South China Morning Post)

Hong Kong’s senior international team is coached by Norwegian-German manager Jorn Andersen. Andersen was brought in following Finnish-born Mixu Paatelainen’s departure after a poor run of form. 

He has managed the likes of Mainz 05 as well as the national team of North Korea. The former Bundesliga and Norwegian League topscorer had an impressive record with the German giants with a 55% win percentage. 

Jorn Andersen prefers to line his players up in a midfield-heavy 4-5-1 formation. In doing so, he encourages his team to try and soak waves of pressure and hit teams on the counter.

Players to Watch

Yapp Hung Fai

Hung Fai is the most capped player for Hong Kong (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Hong Kong’s 32-year-old goalkeeper holds the record for being the most capped player of the Hong Kong national football team. With 79 caps in total, the Eastern SC goalkeeper is an invaluable asset for the team.

He was part of the squad that won the gold medal in the 2009 edition of the East Asian Games. Yapp has excellent speed and reflexes, making him an ideal one-on-one goalkeeper. He has a penchant to rush out and close down the attacker and can react quickly to shots. An excellent penalty kick saver, Yapp has saved penalties on multiple big occasions. However, he is susceptible to crosses and corner kicks due to his lack of height.

Helio

Helio Goncalves is one of many Brazilian-born players that Hong Kong’s national team has. The 6ft 2in tall centre-back was called up recently and remains the most experienced among the defenders. With 26 caps for the national team in the back, he can prove to be a thorn for Igor Stimac’s boys. 

The Santos graduate can help his team maintain their shape and contain the likes of Sunil Chhetri. However, it will be interesting to watch his individual battles with modern forwards like Manvir Singh and Liston Colaco. 

Alex Akande

Akande has scored 10 goals in 27 games for Hong Kong (Courtesy: South China Morning Post)

Akande holds the distinction of being the highest goalscorer in the current Hong Kong national squad. The Nigerian-born striker has 10 goals in 27 appearances for the national team and was also called up in the past year. 

The tall striker can be a menace for the likes of Pritam Kotal and Sandesh Jhingan. Although long balls and hold-up play may be the only way to work the ball upto him he has the ingredients to cause trouble. His strength and first-touch finishing abilities make him a lethal predator in the box and India must look to snuff out his threat at the opportune moment.

What to expect

Hong Kong seem to be another team that prefers to field a low block. India themselves have employed a five back with Pritam Kotal playing as a wingback. Having such a defensive-minded approach once again would not only be counter-productive but spell doom for the Blue Tigers. Stimac should look to allow his side to play intense attacking football and maybe even field a three-back system. India have versatile wide players like Naorem Roshan Singh and Akash Mishra who can be fielded in the wider roles. Players like Subhasish Bose can also be reliable centre-backs who are not only comfortable on the ball but are very good at defending on the break.

Though Cambodia can counter through the likes of Alex Akande, India must look to break the deadlock early. Midfielders like Apuia and Glan Martins can be fielded to help them retain possession and cycle it through midfield. In case both Manvir and Liston don’t start, Sahal Abdul Samad can also be utilised in a Trequartista/Carrilero hybrid role. Though Samad is suited to the attacking midfield role, using him as a Carrilero or wide midfielder will help him operate as a false winger. This in turn would generate acres of space for the other forwards to operate in. 

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