Players ready to kick on

Players ready to kick on

Hong Kong's under-16 team are determined to keep improving after reaching the AFC finals


(From left) Matthew Ho, William Yu and Ho Chik-hin
(From left) Matthew Ho, William Yu and Ho Chik-hin
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP
Hong Kong's under-16 football squad are experiencing a bitter-sweet taste despite qualifying for the first time for next year's Asian Football Confederation Championship in Thailand.

Some local social media websites carried negative comments about the team and their future prospects after the Group G qualifying tournament, which, at one stage, looked unlikely to be staged in Hong Kong.

Defender William Yu Wai-lim, a co-captain of the team, says some players were upset by some negative comments by netizens. "Some people said, 'Even if the team qualify, they'll not be able to win the finals. It will be really embarrassing to go to Thailand and return as losers'," he says.

"It makes no sense to write this. We've made great progress reaching the finals. It wasn't expected. We needed more international exposure, and now we've got it. It's impossible to predict what will happen. But we're determined to do our best."

Hong Kong Jockey Club, the major sponsor of youth football development locally, said earlier this year that it would not fund hosting this autumn's AFC under-16 and under-19 qualifiers.

The Hong Kong Football Association, with only limited funds, dropped its under-19 plans. But it went ahead with hosting the under-16 Group G qualifiers, with some financial support coming from First Division club Kitchee, who donated funds from match-day ticket sales to the HKFA.

William, a Form Four student at Jockey Club Ti-I College, says the scramble to host the tournament added to the players' pressure.

"I was worried we might not qualify," he says. "A lot of different parties worked really hard so this tournament could go on in Hong Kong. The team didn't want to fail and waste all these efforts. We wanted to give our very best in every match."

Forward Matthew Ho Shing-yuen says their success reinforced his dream of being a professional footballer. "I'll always remember that we did something historic by qualifying," says Matthew, a Form Four student at St Francis Xavier's School, who scored three goals and set up many others for his teammates.

"I started playing football when I was six or seven. My ambition was always to be a professional footballer after I leave school. Our achievement gives me more confidence to stick to my plans. I believe I can really do well in the sport in future."

Defender Ho Chik-hin, the second co-captain, says the players met the expectations of senior head coach Kim Pan-gon.

Chik-hin, who plays for Rangers, says: "Mr Kim coached us in the under-14 national squad. At last year's AFC under-14 Festival of Football, in Beijing, he said we must prepare for the qualifiers."

The Form Three student at Ying Wa College says: "He's always said we're the future of Hong Kong football and must keep on raising our standards. We've done that now by qualifying."

The team became one of 16 finalists after a series of impressive results - three wins and only one defeat - left them runners-up in last month's Group G qualifying tournament at Hong Kong Football Club.

Hong Kong defeated Taiwan 3-1, Macau 5-0 and Singapore 4-1, but were beaten 2-0 by the group winners, Australia.

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