Day: June 6, 2024

Taremi’shat trick sinks Hong Kong

Soft spot-kick turns the tide for Iran in the Fifa World Cup qualifier, but Hong Kong shows guts with new boys Timmy Ma and Anthony Pinto on target

Paul McNamara

Paul McNamara+ FOLLOW

6 Jun 2024

Hong Kong football christened two new heroes on Thursday night, but Wolfgang Luisser’s first game in temporary charge ended in a controversial 4-2 World Cup qualifying defeat at home to Iran.

Timmy Ma Hei-wai adeptly swept home a cross from Tan Chun-lok after 15 minutes of his senior international debut. Anthony Pinto was even quicker off the mark, dispatching a low effort past Payam Niazmand only two minutes after replacing Ma in the second half.

Ma’s stunning introduction was sandwiched by a pair of penalties from Mehdi Taremi, the second awarded after Yapp Hung-fai appeared to legally dispossess the striker in the box.

Taremi, on the verge of a transfer from FC Porto to Inter Milan, chipped in a Panenka kick before completing a hat-trick 11 minutes after half-time. But Pinto, released by English League One club Bolton Wanderers, soon fired home to give Hong Kong hope.

Yapp Hung-fai dives to meet Mehdi Taremi in the incident that led to the second penalty. Photo: Sam Tsang

Sardar Azmoun finally killed off the hosts when he escaped the attention of Leon Jones to slip home Iran’s fourth with 25 minutes left.

There were no complaints about the first penalty. Jones, another full Hong Kong debutant, used his arm to block a floated 11th-minute cross from Mehdi Ghayedi. Taremi ignored the howls to place his penalty into the bottom-left corner.

There was a 137-position gulf between the teams in the Fifa world rankings, but after a slow start, the hosts gave as good as they got on a stirring night at Hong Kong Stadium.

They had an early let-off when Helio Goncalves deflected a Taremi strike onto the crossbar. Iran sustained the attack, and Azmoun’s volley had Yapp tumbling to his left to tip behind.

Hong Kong’s anemic opening gave way to a gutsy, ambitious performance, sparked when Tan stole possession on the quarter-hour. The midfielder was allowed to progress down the left and measure a delivery to the near post, where Ma arrived from the opposite flank to steer a finish across goalkeeper Niazmand.

Eastern attacker Ma was so far out of the international reckoning until recently that he did not make the squad for the under-23s’ Asian Games campaign last September.

Yapp needed a strong hand to beat out an effort from Azmoun, but Iran’s discomfort was laid bare when Amin Hazbavi sliced a panicked clearance past a post.

The visitors were given a break, however, when Qasim Matar Al-Hatmi, the referee, awarded a spot-kick for a foul by Yapp. The goalkeeper seemed to make clean contact with the ball as he dived at Taremi’s feet in the 32nd minute, but Hong Kong’s protests were waved away.

Before kick-off, the home fans had hoisted a banner emblazoned with images of Jorn Andersen, accompanied by the words “thank you”, in tribute to the Norwegian, who last week resigned as head coach.

Fans unfurl a banner to thank Jorn Andersen, the former head coach. Photo: Sam Tsang

And their backing created a wall of noise throughout as their team, in keeping with the progress made under Andersen, battled to recover from Taremi’s second penalty. Songs stuck in the throats of most of the 9,992 crowd when the dead-eyed Taremi angled a sidefooted shot into the corner to claim the match ball.

Pinto pounced on ponderous efforts to clear and caressed a first-time left-foot shot inside Niazmand’s right post, but Azmoun extinguished any comeback hopes. This was a night, however, that will be recalled for Luisser’s impressive first audition for the job, and the birth of two new Hong Kong stars.

Starting lineup vs Hong Kong

Amir Ghalenoei has made a few changes to the usual starting lineup for the game in Hong Kong. The defending line has seen most of the changes as Shojaa Khalilzadedh is the only one who has maintained his place, while Abolfazl Jalali, Amin Hizbavi, and Arya Yousefi will be starting the match. Payam Nizmand has replace Ali Beiranvand.

Mohammad Ghorbani after an impressive season, will partner Saman Ghoddos while Ghaedi and Jahanbakhash will be operating on the flanks to support the two forwards Taremi and Azmoun.

The match is a formality for Iran, however, a good winning margin will boost the team for a commanding performance in the next rounds of the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers.

12P. Niazmand
4S. Khalilzadeh
18A. Jalali
15A. Hazbavi
13A. Yousefi
10M. Ghayedi
6M. Ghorbani
9M. Taremi
20S. Azmoun
14S. Ghoddos
7A. Jahanbakhsh

Hong Kong billed as ‘more creative’ after boss’ exit as Iran visit for Fifa World Cup qualifier

  • Stand-in coach Wolfgang Luisser vows to tweak formula that worked under Jorn Andersen in qualifiers against Iran and Turkmenistan
Paul McNamara

Paul McNamara

6 Jun 2024

A “more flexible and creative” Hong Kong representative team has been promised by stand-in coach Wolfgang Luisser when the city’s footballers begin the post-Jorn Andersen era against Iran on Thursday.

The World Cup qualifier at Hong Kong Stadium will be the hosts’ first fixture since June 2021 without Andersen in the dugout, with former assistant Luisser stepping in after the Norwegian resigned last week to take charge of mainland Chinese club Yunnan Yukun.

“The biggest game for me as a head coach” was a simple enough assessment for Luisser given his top-level experience amounts to two 2019 matches as caretaker of SCR Altach in his native Austria. But a strong CV includes six years as assistant coach of Austria’s under-21s.

Hongkongers could reimagine what was possible during Andersen’s 2½-year reign, as an aggressive style delivered unprecedented results. While retaining traits that made Hong Kong a more competitive force, Luisser plans to do things his way, starting against Iran then away to Turkmenistan on Tuesday.

Wolfgang Luisser (left) plans to refine Hong Kong’s playing style in his matches in charge. Photo: Edmond So

Hong Kong netted only once in Andersen’s final five games, after 18 goals in the previous seven matches had appeared to draw a line under prolonged scoring issues.

“There will be a small change in our play with the ball,” Luisser said. “We want to give our players more creativity in attack, [and] be more flexible. We will change a little bit on set-pieces, too.

“We don’t want to change too much, because the players know what to do, but [there are] some small adjustments.

“Against the ball, our pressing and high attack will stay the same.”

Luisser said both offensive and defensive set-pieces would be tweaked, with attacking ploys a focus of the team’s final training session at the stadium on Wednesday.

“I cannot go into too much detail, because the opposition are listening,” Luisser said.

The interim boss must do without some key figures for his two games in charge. A number of players are missing while they arrange club contracts for next season, but forward Stefan Pereira put his hand up to play despite originally having no insurance following his release from Southern.

Luisser said: “It was clear he wanted to be part of the squad, with or without [insurance] … the Hong Kong FA gave him insurance for this period.”

A spokesman for the governing body was unable to confirm this was the case. Fifa has been approached for comment.

The Post has been told by a number of sources that X-factor attacker Everton Camargo was excluded after his request to feature only against Iran was refused.

Luisser insisted Camargo was missing for “family reasons”, and offered the same regarding the absent Jacky Leung Nok-hang. Leung, who would be a shoo-in at center-half, has played only twice for Hong Kong since September.

The withdrawals opened the door for Timothy Ma Hei-wai and Anthony Pinto. Ma, 20, was last week crowned Hong Kong young player of the season, along with Eastern teammate Jesse Yu Joy-yin.

The 18-year-old Pinto was selected despite his release from English League One club Bolton Wanderers.

“They bring fresh energy,” Luisser said of the new faces. Hong Kong cannot progress in the World Cup, but Luisser said the team want to “give something back to the fans and finish the qualifiers on a high”.

Anthony Pinto (right) has impressed following his first Hong Kong call-up. Photo: Edmond So

Iran are into the next phase, but coach Amir Ghalenoei said he would field his strongest team for Fifa ranking points and to try to top the group.

When Ghalenoei was asked how his players avoided being distracted by political turmoil at home, Iran media officials stepped in. The team’s translator said: “We are here for football and don’t want to talk about the political things.”