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.

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