Hong Kong

香港 / Hong Kong

  • Capital: Victoria
  • Official Languages: Chinese, English
  • Regional Language: Cantonese
  • Nicknames: The Strength / 勁揪
  • Association: Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) / 香港足球總會
  • FIFA Code: HKG

Records

  • Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
  • Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
  • Best Asian Cup Result (Men): Third Place (1956)
  • Best Asian Cup Result (Women): Fourth Place (1979, 1981, 1989)
  • Best EAFF Championship Result (Men): Third Place (1995)
  • Best EAFF Championship Result (Women): Not Qualified
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 90th (February 1996)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 58th (June 2009)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 172nd (November 2012)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 127th (March 2011)
  • Most Capped Player: Yapp Hung Fai – 76 caps [as of March 2021]
  • Top Scorer: Chan Siu Ki – 40 goals

Hong Kong, officially known as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR) is a metropolitan ‘special administrative region’ (SAR) situated on the eastern Pearl River Delta of the South China Sea. With a population of 7,5 million, it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, as well as being one of the world’s most significant financial centres and commercial ports. Originally an important British colony and trading port, it became a SAR of China PR in 1997 under the principle of “one country, two systems” with the SAR having a northern land border with China, whilst its fellow SAR, the smaller Macao (formerly a Portuguese colony), is located on the opposite side of the River Zhujiang estuary.

As part of the British Empire, Hong Kong was one of the first places in Asia to play football with the Hong Kong FA being founded as early as 1914 and making it one of the oldest FAs in Asian football, although it wouldn’t be until 1954 when they became a member of both FIFA and the AFC. Despite most Hong Kong players initially representing the Republic of China (Taiwan), they took part in three of the first four editions of the AFC Asian Cup, even hosting the very first Asian Cup competition in 1956 where they achieved their best-ever finish of third place. Alas since their third appearance in the continental competition in the 1968 edition, they have yet to qualify for another Asian Cup as well as being unable to qualify for a World Cup. The nearest they came to achieving that goal was in the Asian qualifying for the 1986 World Cup when they famously beat China PR 2-1 to top their qualifying round. Sadly they lost 1-5 on aggregate to Japan in the second round of qualifying.

In the AFC qualifying phase for the 2022 World Cup, Hong Kong were ranked as the 27th best team in Asia and were placed in ‘Pot 4’ of the qualification draw. Alas it looks a tall order for them to progress to the next round of qualification for the World Cup. Despite being four points from second place, they are placed within a very tough group with Iraq, Bahrain, Iran and Cambodia, although qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup could still happen in the future providing they progress through the likely route of the playoff rounds.

To talk about a side who have an extensive history with Asian football but are yet to qualify for their fourth major tournament, having last doing so in 1968, we interviewed the brilliant Dr. Tobias Zuser. Tobias is the founder and editor-in-chief of the superb offside.hk, Hong Kong’s only English language football magazine. In addition, he also co-hosts the bi-weekly Hong Kong Football Podcast. To find their website, social media accounts, and the Hong Kong Football Podcast, follow the links below:

Q. Who would you say is Hong Kong’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Lee Wai-tong

That’s a bit of a tricky question due to the complicated political history of Hong Kong football. The unrivalled hero is – without a doubt – Lee Wai-tong, who was born in Hong Kong and is deemed a “once-in-a-century” legend, often put on a par with Pelé. However, he actually never played for the Hong Kong representative team. In fact, back in the days, many local football players chose the Republic of China (later Taiwan) over Hong Kong, which just started off as an odd British colonial side in the 1950s when it was granted FIFA and AFC membership. The same is true for another player legend, Cheung Chi-doy, who was the first Hong Kong footballer to play in England. Given these limitations, I think the trophy for best player, who actually was a member of the Hong Kong team, would be shared between Kwok Ka-ming, Wu Kwok-hung, and record goalscorer Chan Siu-ki.

The best coach may also be Kwok Ka-ming, as he oversaw Hong Kong’s historic victory over China in 1985 at the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing (more about that later), though Kim Pan-gon, as the longest-serving manager, also deserves some credit, leading Hong Kong to two more historic goalless draws against China in 2015.

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the representative team both in the past and present?

Yapp Hung-fai

Goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai would probably fit this title best. With a lack in attacking quality, Hong Kong has been a team that depends on impeccable defending to cause major upsets. So whenever Yapp makes an incredible save, the stadium is roaring, knowing that a potential draw feels already like a victory against a mighty opponent. Yapp, who has been the undisputed number 1 for more than a decade but is still only 30 years of age now, already was in goal when Hong Kong won the gold medal at the 2009 East Asian Games in front of a home crowd following a thrilling penalty shootout with Japan. Despite his talent, he was denied a professional career in the Chinese league system, where all goalkeepers must be eligible for the Chinese national team. So he stayed on in Hong Kong, playing for local giants South China and currently Eastern. In 2015, he probably had the games of his lifetime, when he kept two clean sheets against China within three months, which earned him permanent legend status.

Q. Of the current Hong Kong team, who would you say is the best player in the team?

Huang Yang

That’s another tough call, as the team hasn’t played any games for a long time due to the pandemic and many of the best players were at the brink of retirement just before the lockdowns kicked in. Goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai and defensive midfielder Huang Yang are probably the most respected ones in the team, and have proven their consistency throughout the last decade. But there are also a lot of naturalized players, who have recently taken on the HKSAR passport and have also represented Hong Kong internationally, among them Sandro, Alex Akande, and Festus Baise. Meanwhile, many local fans are waiting for the debuts of former Brazilians Wellingsson de Souza [31-year-old foward currently at Kitchee] and Fernando [34-year-old left winger currently at Eastern], who are also eligible to play for Hong Kong now after staying in the city for more than 7 years.

Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the representative team?

Hong Kong certainly had its moments in the last 12 years, especially with the 2009 East Asia Games win and the World Cup qualifying round in 2015. However, recently, it appeared as if the team would start falling behind their Asian rivals, with Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, and Philippines all making bigger strides and developing more promising talents. Of course, the pandemic has also contributed to an incredibly long pause, which makes a current assessment rather difficult. Hopes are not high that the team could qualify for a major tournament any time soon, and if they would make it into the final stage of the 2023 Asian Cup, then probably only with a considerable amount of luck.

Q. Are there any Hong Kong players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the SAR?

Tan Chun-lok

The most promising players are certainly the ones who looked for challenges outside of Hong Kong, among them Tan Chun-lok [25-year-old central midfielder], who joined Chinese Super League side Guangzhou R&F (now known as Guangzhou City), full back Tsui Wang-kit [24-year-old who now plays for Lee Man FC], who used to play for Meizhou Hakka in China League One, as well as the 26-year-old central defender Leung Nok-hang, who joined Zhejiang Greentown (now known as Zhejiang Professional). Another guy to watch out for is 24-year-old Matt Orr, who played some years of college football in the US before returning to Hong Kong, where he joined reigning champions Kitchee.

Q. Looking at Hong Kong’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the representative team in your opinion?

Without a doubt that was the 2-1 win over China on 19 May 1985 in Beijing. China was expecting an easy win, which would have seen them in the play-off for the World Cup qualifiers, but Hong Kong (then still a British colony) intervened with a great display of team spirit and efficiency. This event has become famously known as the ‘May 19 Incident‘ in China, as disappointed fans started rioting in the area around Workers’ Stadium, with Deng Xiaoping sending the People’s Liberation Army to restore order.

Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?

The 0-7 defeat to Argentina in 2014 was not very pleasant, but it was also just an exhibition game against an excellent side. Maybe a bit more traumatic was the 0-7 loss to China in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in 2004.

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Hong Kong representative team?

The best thing about being a Hong Kong fan is the intensity and intimacy of the experience. Compared to other places around the world, the players and coaches are approachable – with no antics of fame and stardom. The atmosphere is also another highlight. Even though there may just be a few thousand spectators at games, a fully seated Mong Kok Stadium with up to 6500 people will definitely give you the chills. Against most of the opponents, fan expectations are rather humble, and if Hong Kong face some of the Asian football giants every successful pass, clearance, or save is met with enthusiastic cheers. Of course, there is also a lot of frustration and disappointment involved, especially when the team struggles against supposedly weakers sides, which has unfortunately happened more often in recent years.

Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?

During the recent social unrest, “Glory to Hong Kong” was regularly sung during the Kick Off and for a while it seemed that it could become an unofficial anthem, but the recent National Security Law may have a dampening effect on this short-lived tradition. Other than that, there has been the long-standing “Come on Hong Kong” pop song, which is played before the game and during half time over the stadium speakers, with many fans joining in the refrain. During the game, the most unifying chant is “We are Hong Kong“, which also turned into a symbol for local identity.

Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the representative team?

The 2012-13 home shirt

The most iconic shirt was definitely the 2012/13 Nike kit. Since then, Hong Kong has had some decent templates, which sell out notoriously fast, but nothing really came close enough to the 2012/13 version again.

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Hong Konger representative team?

It would be great to see Hong Kong pursuing a long-term strategy, improving their youth work, and building up a team that can compete at eye level with Asia’s second tier teams, such as Malaysia, Thailand, India, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Jordan. While qualifying to the World Cup will probably not be something we will see in our lifetime, if Hong Kong could be a regular participant in the Asian Cup, the fans would be perfectly satisfied.

A massive 多謝晒 / thank you very much to Tobias from offside.hk for answering our questions on the Strength. Remember you can find their excellent account and website in the links at the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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