Kick-off for qualifiers

Kick-off for qualifiers

Hong Kong hosts four Asian rivals in battle to reach AFC under-14 football championship finals

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(From left, back row) coach Pau Marti Vicente and manager Kenneth Kwok; (Front row) Jonathan Linux Cheung, Sun Ming-him, Yang Lok-hang and Barnett Cheng See-chun.
(From left, back row) coach Pau Marti Vicente and manager Kenneth Kwok; (Front row) Jonathan Linux Cheung, Sun Ming-him, Yang Lok-hang and Barnett Cheng See-chun.
Photo: Thomas Yau/SCMP
Come on everybody! It's the time to give Hong Kong's boys team some great home support when the five-nation qualifying competition for next year's under-14 Asian Football Confederation Championship kicks off tomorrow.

For the first time, Hong Kong is hosting these Group H east zone matches, which will also feature Mongolia, North Korea, Macau and Japan under-13 teams.

Hong Kong's under-13 team will take on North Korea in the opening match at Mong Kok Stadium at 3pm tomorrow. They play their second match, against Macau, on Sunday at 5.30pm. The home team's match against Japan is next Tuesday at 3pm, with the team's final game against Mongolia at 5.30pm the next day.

Yang Lok-hang, 12, a Form One student at Diocesan Boys' School, is looking forward to playing at the stadium. "I've watched my club, Yokohama FC Hong Kong, play Sun Hei Sports Club there this season," the centre back says. "So I'm really looking forward to playing there."

The group's top-ranked team will qualify for next year's final rounds.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust has supported the Hong Kong Football Association in hosting the qualifying tournament.

Lok-hang is one of four co-captains of the Hong Kong squad, together with Jonathan Linux Cheung, Barnett Cheng See-chun and Sun Ming-him. The squad, along with head coach Pau Marti Vicente and team manager Kenneth Kwok Kar-lok, have just returned from a six-day Easter training camp in Bangkok, Thailand.

Kwok says the camp was very useful. "We analysed the performances of the players in Thailand so we could finalise the starting 11 for the qualifiers," he says.

"We also needed to boost the team's overall form, and to sharpen their defensive skills, in particular, because North Korea and Japan are both very good attacking sides."

The under-13 players have rarely played on a standard-sized pitch before, but this tournament will see them playing four matches in only seven days.

However, Marti Vicente says the squad can meet this new challenge. "We started our high-intensity preparations on big pitches early," he says. "Our players come from different clubs. The practice sessions since last summer, and the training camp in Thailand, helped them learn to work for each other and play as a team. In Thailand, they played friendly matches with strong teams, including youth sides of Thailand's national squad and SCG Muangthong United Football Club. They've gained great experience."

Ming-him, 12, a schoolmate of Lok-hang, says he needs to improve his form in time for the tournament. "I didn't score goals when I played friendly matches in Thailand," says the forward, who plays for the youth team of First Division side Kitchee.

"I must do better in coming matches."

Admission to all 10 qualifiers is free.

For details, go to www.hkfa.com

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