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Hong Kong Aim To Salvage Lost Pride (25/07/2011)

3rd Men's Junior AHF Cup

Day 3, Match 5 (25/07/2011)

Hong Kong, China vs Iran

Half-time score: 1-2

Full-time score: 1-3

Hong Kong Aim To Salvage Lost Pride

By Eddie dos Passos/HKHA

Host Hong Kong were unceremoniously shown the exit from the 3rd Men’s Junior AHF Cup when they lost to Iran on a 3-1 note.

Despite playing some strong attacking hockey, Hong Kong were unable to adapt to the fast counter-attacking style played by the visitors, who admitted that they are more comfortable with the indoor game.

“Playing on this type of surface (artificial grass) is a whole new experience to us,” said Iran coach Esfandyar Safaei, whose side was playing only their second game and were having their fourth experience (training) on the surface since landing in Hong Kong.

“We have had to rely on just playing a simple game and our (indoor) technique and adapting to the playing surface as best we can,” he said.

Not bad for a side that previously trained on a sand-based pitch in Iran before flying here for this Under-21 tournament.

None of his players had even played on this type of surface according to Safaei but have enjoyed some minor success as they picked up four points after drawing with fellow Pool B rivals Sri Lanka, 2-2 in their opening match and now this victory.

“We have always played indoor hockey so it is unique for us to come here and play from indoor to outdoor hockey,” he said.

As to the win over Hong Kong, Safaei said in some ways it all boiled down to some good old fashion tactical scheming on his side’s part.

“We monitored Hong Kong’s pattern of play and we analyzed their weaknesses. We realized that Hong Kong’s area of potential weakness was its’ defense and we exploited that,” he said.

He said that before the game, he made the tactical decision to have his side go on an ‘all out-attack’ on both Hong Kong wings and then wait and see if their plan succeeded.

“I felt confident enough that if enough pressure was placed on the Hong Kong defense we would find some open room and luckily our plan worked,” he said.

“In the first half we were constantly in motion and changed our system from one sweeper to three forwards,” he said.

The Iranian coach said part of their success was keeping the squad guessing up to the last minute, from choosing the side to actually playing.

“Before coming to Hong Kong, we were only together as a team for three months after selecting a side from 84 players from the whole of Iran,” he said.

Despite their success, the Iranian expects that their latter journey in the tournament may be a short one as they face some of the stronger hockey nations from Asia in this second tier group.

“It is going to be tough. The other teams are very good but we will still do our best although we have an outside chance of getting beyond our group,” he said.

He said Pool B rivals Sri Lanka were also enjoying some measure of success after they drew 2-2 with tournament favourites Chinese Taipei, in a closely fourth encounter prior to their match against Hong Kong to have two points to date.

With Chinese Taipei on four points, the same number as Iran, it all boils down to a final pool match between Hong Kong and Sri Lanka and Iran up against Chinese Taipei.

“We could easily be knocked out of this tournament so the last pool game will decide our fate, it is going to be very important for all of us,” he said.

Hong Kong coach Guv Dillon was at a lost for words as his side were left frustrated and fuming at how they let this match slip away from their hands.

“We lacked the tenacity of our competitor,” said Dillon who was visibly distraught after losing his second game.

“The issues have clearly shown that we lacked the experience of playing in a proper tournament but there is some hope for our team,” he said.

“Many of our players are young and are good and need this type of exposure to go forward,” he said.

He said they were only a team two weeks prior to the opening game and could be the main reason to their downfall.

“Many of our better players are studying in other parts of the world and came back specifically for this tournament. This just goes to prove Hong Kong Hockey Association needs a long term plan in developing players and teams for Hong Kong,” he said.

“There is a lot of talent in this side and hopefully they (HKHA) do not lose sight of this as they are surely the future of Hong Kong,” he said.

He said because of their lack of playing together, their game against Iran showed the lack of “cohesion” on his side.

“I think we are one of the only (hockey) nations who have to make their selection trials with many of their players away but hopefully that will change soon. What you see is what we have and we must develop if we are to remain competitive,” he said.

“We have to look forward to our final Pool match against Sri Lanka and play our hearts out,” he said.

‘With nothing to lose’, he said he will make sure the Hong Kong players know that ‘with the pressure now off’ them and that they had to play with their hearts on their sleeves.

“We now have to play for pride,” he said.

Hong Kong again began on a strong note as they did against Chinese Taipei, with the host scoring the opening goal from Cheung Yiu-man in the 16th minute, again a penalty corner conversion (as he did against Chinese Taipei).

But Hong Kong were humbled by the strong defending and fast counter-offensive style of Iran, who just as quickly stormed back into contention with a Navid Taherirad 25th minute equalizer and then saw that goal become a lead through Vahid Fathi three minutes later.

Fathi then sealed his host’s fate when he pounced on a loose ball to hand his team an early after match dinner celebration with his second goal of the game for a final 3-1 victory two minutes from time.