Hong Kong's World Cup dream

Photo: Hong Kong Premier League

Hong Kong would love to play in the World Cup before Hong Kong ceases to exist as we know it, but that chance has already passed us by, however this all about their World Cup dream now.

Hong Kong has never qualified for the World Cup, and they could cease to exist in the future 

Hong Kong has never qualified for the World Cup in their history since commenced their attempt at qualifying for the 1974 tournament in Germany (at the time West Germany). Hong Kong has attempted to qualify for each World Cup from 1974 to 2022.

At the time of writing, they have played 73 qualifying matches, winning 23, drawing 14 and losing 36. They have scored 91 and conceded 128 during the process, which looks a lot more positive than I expected before looking it up. It shows there is potential in Hong Kong to develop a good squad if nurtured correctly. However, their best record came in qualifying for the 1984 World Cup in Mexico, with the rest of the results being spread throughout every other qualifying tournament. 

At the moment, they are technically not knocked out of World Cup qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but in reality, they are. Currently occupying 4th place in qualifying in Group C on five points above Cambodia, who they have taken four of their five points from with a 1-1 away draw and 2-0 home win. Hong Kong's other point came from a hard-fought home draw against Bahrain. 

With games to come away in Bahrain, away in Iran and at home to Iraq, it is safe to say that Hong Kong is as good as eliminated from the World Cup. And with everything that has been going on in the country this year, with China introducing the national security law in Hong Kong there are major doubts that Hong Kong will be around for the 2026 World Cup qualifying or they will cease to exist as an international team.


Heading for an Asian Cup pre-group stage qualifier

As things stand, Hong Kong, like a host of other East Asian nations are headed for an Asian Cup pre-group stage qualifier. This is because every side who finished last in the World Cup qualifying group, and the worst four sides all have to endure the pre-qualifying playoff.

Hong Kong is occupying the fifth spot in the ranking of fourth-placed sides currently, but with a difficult trio of matches to come, their position is likely to deteriorate rather than improve. This suggests that Hong Kong is odds on favourites to also occupy one of the dreaded pre-Asian Cup qualifying spots.

That means they would need to overcome a two-legged playoff against the fifth-placed side (there is no chance Hong Kong will finish below Cambodia because of the head to head records unless Cambodia ends on more points which isn't happening), so the silver cloud for Hong Kong is at least they will be needed for these games. 

The bad news is losing these matches, and there is no comeback. Hong Kong would then be out of the 2022 World Cup, and out of the 2023 Asian Cup (maybe they won't mind as it's unlikely their fans will be rocking up to China).

Failure to even get into the Asian Cup qualifiers would be a disaster for Hong Kong, as they're regulars in qualifying. Regular qualifying matches benefit sides like Hong Kong a lot because it offers regular competitive matches, with defined consequences riding on the outcome of the games. 

Win the games and you have a chance to become heroes in Hong Kong for qualifying for the Asian Cup for the first time in donkey's years, you encourage the next generation of youngsters to play the sport (which is a great thing in Asia where participation in East Asia isn't at similar levels to Europe and South America) and you may generate more funding for the future. 

Although lose on the other hand and then the management team run the risk of losing their jobs becoming unemployed, football falls behind other popular sports in East Asia if these other sports succeed, and funding may be cut as the team continues to be unsuccessful and get undesired results in the eyes of whoever is providing the funding or sponsorship. 

This adds pressure to the squad that isn't there during friendly matches or friendly tournaments. There is a lot more riding on competitive games, this is the type of thing that can make or break players and give them the impetus they need to improve or crumble and fade away into the future. 


Ultra defensive approach will need to be abandoned if Hong Kong want to qualify for the Asian Cup

Hong Kong has played ultra-defensive in their qualifying games for the World Cup. This can be justified in large because of the sides they were drawn to play against, Iraq, Iran and Bahrain all pose a massive obstacle that Hong Kong is unlikely to overcome by trying to use free-flowing attacking football. 

What they have done in order to try and come out of these games with something is go ultra-defensive and hit teams on the break, sneak a goal and as a bonus a shithouse win or draw. So far it has only really worked at home against Bahrain where they frustrated the Bahraini's to the point where they made racist gestures at the end of the match. Other than this one instance, it hasn't worked in any other game. Hong Kong should be defeating Cambodia at home, and they should have taken a more attacking approach in the away game. 

Hong Kong's matches away in Iraq and Bahrain will go the same way as their away match in Iraq did, they will take a damage limitations approach, and come away with a narrow defeat. It's easy for me to say it sitting behind my computer, bashing my keyboard, but they may as well go into these last three games with an attacking approach and attempt to upset the applecart by grabbing a draw or even a surprise win. You never know if you don't have a go, but again, it's easy for me to say it from the safety of being a keyboard warrior. 

The reasoning why I believe they should take a slightly more attacking approach (not an all-out attacking one) is because when it comes to playing their playoff match for the Asian Cup, the players will already know how they are going to play for those games. I would be preparing the team setup, with the Asian Cup qualifiers in mind now. I would be picking players, I would like to have for those games now. 

Forget the World Cup that is done, switch the focus to the Asian Cup mentally, and have the players zoned in for it when it happens. If you can score two or three goals away in Iran, but lose 7-3, then you have no reason to fear Guam, Mongolia or the Maldives, because scoring two or three away in Iran is the feat of giants for a national side the size of Hong Kong's. 

I believe this mentality would see you through to the Asian Cup group stage like a dream. Over to you Mixu, to navigate the most awkward of roads that any of the East Asian sides have during this qualifying stage. 

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1 Comments

  1. This is a good summary of where Hong Kong are in terms of qualifying, although I'd add a few more points to consider.

    1) After the draw for the second round was conducted, obviously our hopes of advancement were dead before a single had been kicked. What happened next was crucial: Mixu got the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) on board with using these matches as a way to blood in new players and not worry about the results. So, while we’ve only won once under Mixu, we’ve also only lost by more than two goals on one occasion.

    2) Goalscoring has been a problem but the reinforcements are coming. We could add up to five newly naturalized players to the national team by year’s end, assuming there will be international football. By my estimate, three of them are starting calibre players and of those three, two of them are wingers. This should give Mixu the option of playing with a front three if he chooses.

    I have my doubts about whether Mixu wants to play an expansive style, but he will have the players to do it. I agree that when we’re up against teams of equal or lesser quality, we should come out and attack them but my sense is that Mixu’s preference is to keep things tight at the back, first and foremost.

    3) With the loss of international dates due to COVID, there’s a better chance than not that the AFC will change their format for Asian Cup qualifying. It could mean that playoffs for the group stage are reduced to a single leg or it might even mean that they’ll eliminate the playoffs and simply create more groups. At the moment, it appears that the AFC simply wants to wait and see if WCQ can resume before the end of the year before unveiling their contingency plans. As such, I don’t think it’s fair to forecast our chances until we can see what the new format is.

    4) I don’t worry that the HKFA will be dissolved or that the Hong Kong team will cease to exist. Macau has had the same national security law as Hong Kong for a decade now and their FA and teams still exist. This is not a commentary on whether one should let their guard down in light of the law, but rather, it’s an example that China can expand its borders and leave member associations in those annexed territories alone.

    What I’m worried about is the lack of long term planning at the HKFA. They, rightfully, want to strengthen grassroots development so that they can produce better players for the national team. The problem is whether they’ll become impatient because it takes a generation for the results to bear fruit, and they’ll sack the few people in the organization who are visionaries, like the Technical Director Thor Arnason.

    Even if you were to include the naturalized players who could join the national team this year, much of our squad are either in or past their prime, which means that they’ll be gone after this cycle. I worry that, between 2010-2019, we’ve actually hit a dry spell in terms of development and thus, we won’t be able to replace the outgoing players with players of a similar calibre.

    When you think about it, there might not be another nation in Asia who has more at stake than Hong Kong does with regards to qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup. If it happens, it could lead to greater interest in the local game, more sponsorships and opportunities for our top young players to move abroad. The last point is the biggest benefit we could achieve as we’ve already seen what the J. League Partner Nations program has done for ASEAN football.

    If it doesn’t happen, then perhaps we’ve blown our best chance in a generation and what will follow is greater irrelevance for local football.

    Just my two cents.

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