Hong Kong literally came back from the dead as they stormed back from a 5-2 first-half deficit, only to draw on the final whistle with Guangdong of China. They shared a point each at the end of a fantastic 70 minutes of hockey on a chilly balmy Thursday night, Dec 13, at King’s Park Hockey Stadium. Meanwhile the hosts kept their Quadrangular Tournament title hopes alive.
The 6-all draw barely gave justice to Hong Kong’s terrific performance as they were unable to hold onto a slender one goal advantage—it was squandered when Guangdong recovered and scored a vital equaliser off a penalty corner two minutes from time. Hong Kong had held Guangdong to just that one goal in the second half, but it was not enough and the hosts were denied a comeback only great teams can dream of.
The Hong Kong-hosted tournament had a designated rest day under international tournament rules today, Friday, December 14. After two day’s of play, with the four teams having played two games each, Malaysia’s Batu Pahat sit at the top of the standings with four points, having won one and drawn another; Guandong and Hong Kong are equal second on two points, having both played out draws in their two respective matches and are also tied in goals for (8) and goals against (8); while Tianjin hold up the table having played a draw and a loss for one point.
Hong Kong, after drawing their opening game with Tianjin 2-2, followed up with that campaign-saving draw against Guangdong.
Best of all, it was Hong Kong’s journeyman skipper, Arif Ali, who not only scored a hat-trick, but learned earlier that day that he would be a father next April. He was ecstatic with the result.
“It was an unbelievable result for us. More importantly, I learned today (Thursday Jan 13) my wife Ka-yan is pregnant,” said Ali, who was only married earlier this year.
Ali, who has perfected his skills as a drag flicker, has played for club sides in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand before honing his skills in France for Racing Club de France in Paris—where he had played as player/coach—has been superb for Hong Kong.
While Ali was happy for his impending fatherhood, it was the game that took centre-stage after he scored two penalty corner conversions, then added a third for his hat-trick from a diving close-range strike.
“It has been an unbelievable night. First the news of my being a father and then a hat-trick,” said the 31-year-old Ali, “This only encourages me to play longer for Hong Kong, so my child will get to see me play.”
But he believed it was a half-time team talk that saw his side push into overdrive and see them storm back into tournament contention.
“We had a pep talk at half-time and I told the boy’s we had to score after we missed many goal chances,” said Ali.
Trailing Guandong, his pep talk did the job as his side pulled out all the stops to nail their goals: Ali with his hat-trick was ably supported by two from Inderpal Singh and one from Ishtiaq Ahmed, which saw them chalk up an amazing six-goal tally.
Representing southern China, Guangdong coach Cong De Chung was left puzzled as to how they could have squandered a 5-2 half-time lead, but could only blame the result on the inexperience of his side.
“Hong Kong played exceptionally well and their skills, especially in the second half, were fantastic,” said the Guangdong coach.
Meanwhile, Tianjin were left pondering their fate, sit last in the standings. Their coach, Jia We had no reply on how to take on the Malaysians, despite holding their own with speedy runs as they threw everything they could muster against their counterparts.
“The Malaysians are a good side. They are fast and skilful,” said Jia, whose side has been together for the past three years and are still on a learning curve of the game.
“The results don’t matter to us as we need to learn and can only do so from playing in tournaments like this,” said Jia.
On Saturday all matches will again be played at King’s Park where, in an all-China affair, Guandong will play Tianjin starting at 2.30 pm, while Hong Kong plays Batu Pahat at 4.30 pm.
This means that Hong Kong will know before they enter the match whether they need to win or draw—and with what score—to finish in the top two of the single-round robin format, where they will then have a crack at the gold medal match on Sunday Dec 15.
Except for a Guandong-Tianjin pairing, mathematically it is possible for any other combination of teams meeting in the title match depending upon who wins, loses or draws.
In the scenario of both matches being drawn Batu Pahat will progress to the Final; while, either of Hong Kong or Guandong could—having identical positions in the standings entering Saturday’s matches—with the higher scoring draw being instructional as to who will play Batu Pahat. The teams not making it to the Final will end up playing for a bronze, also on Sunday.
Regardless, the pressure on Hong Kong of knowing what result they need before Saturday’s match could be a blessing or a curse. They simply need to enter the day focussed on winning and not worrying about the earlier match.
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