Hong Kong: Coach Kim Pan-gon knows his Hong Kong side face an uphill challenge if they are to book their place at the AFC Asian Cup 2019 for the first time in more than 50 years after losing 1-0 to Lebanon on Tuesday.
The loss – by virtue of a first half penalty from Hassan Maatouk – leaves Hong Kong needing to win in Pyongyang against DPR Korea to have any hope of qualifying from Group B for the Finals for the first time since 1968.
“Before the game we knew the situation – DPR Korea had eight points and plus one goal difference, while we had five points and a zero goal difference,” said Kim. “Even if we won we would have to win by two or three goals to go above them and then we could qualify with a 2-2 draw in Korea.
“But now we know the situation – it will be very tough and we only have a small chance but if we win we will qualify as we will have the same points and a better head-to-head. Because of the situation (in the group), we tried to win tonight and didn’t think of the draw. With a draw nothing would change.”
Hong Kong’s hopes of picking up a win against the Lebanese, who have already qualified for the Finals in the United Arab Emirates, were hit late in the first half when Tan Chun Lok was sent off and Maatouk calmly tucked away the winner from the penalty spot.
Kim’s team had dominated the game until that point and the coach from Korea Republic was pleased with his team’s performance despite the loss.
“I have spent a lot of time talking with the players since we started this journey in March,” he said. “We have played strong opponents and it’s difficult to adapt and get to their level.
“We wanted to see that we were at a better level and deserved to go the Finals. Everybody wants to go to the final stage by showing high quality performances. In Lebanon (in March), we couldn’t get over the halfway line, so I am very proud of the players tonight – mentally and physically, every aspect has improved.”
The win was Lebanon’s fourth in five qualifying matches, and coach Miodrag Radulovic praised his team for their continued application despite having already secured their place at the Finals.
“We have been preparing for almost three years and I have tried to change many things,” he said. “It’s a new generation, with 12 or 13 new players, but we have prepared game by game and the players have worked hard and played well.
“It has now been 19 months since we were defeated and in March it will be two years since we have lost a game. Thanks to the players, thanks to the fans – Lebanon should be proud of these players because it’s really a golden generation of players.”
DPR Korea now hold second place in the group, three points ahead of Hong Kong, following back-to-back wins over Malaysia in Thailand and coach Joern Andersen is hoping a return to Pyongyang for the final game will see his team advance.
“We now have eight points,” said the Norwegian, whose team notched up a pair of 4-1 wins over Nelo Vingada’s side. “We are in a good position before the last match at the end of March.
“And I think that we can play at home again. We are strong at home and I look forward to playing this match and qualifying for UAE 2019.”
Those consecutive defeats to DPR Korea ended Malaysia’s hopes of appearing at the AFC Asian Cup Finals for the first time since co-hosting the 2007 tournament but Vingada stressed his team will learn from the defeats.
“Of course, I’m sad for the result,” said the Portuguese coach. “There was no doubts about their superiority but already they didn’t create so many chances to win the game 4-1.
“There are positive things that we can bring and learn from these two games. To play at this level, of course, we need to have more time to prepare for the games and not just a one day training before the first game.”