The match was due to have been played the day before, but had to be postponed for 24 hours due to torrential rain. Around the time for kick-off, the humidity levels were still as high as 88 %, although this is hardly rare for these shores. At least there was no rain. The temperature was 29 degrees centigrades.
As the game originally had been scheduled to go ahead at the same time as Indonesia v North Korea, Hong Kong and Japan both knew that possible group favourites North Korea had dropped what could be a valuable point in Jakarta. With Japan the most likely challenger, they knew that a win in Hong Kong would set them up nicely for the fixtures ahead. Still, the AFC section of the World Cup qualification was an extended version, and eventual progress would have to come through the narrow passage of a bottleneck.
These two had met in the World Cup qualification ahead of Mexico ’86, with Japan winning 2-1 here in Hong Kong, and this after Hong Kong had initially won a four nations group containing China, so they were no push-overs. The Japanese had won the home leg back then in ’85 by three goals to nil.
Team news Hong Kong
Manager Ka Ming Kwok could have been forgiven for having been moderately optimistic ahead of the qualification, as they were facing some stiff opposition, at least in comparison to their own level. That recent win against Macao would have installed some belief throughout the squad.
The players in action during the game had been drafted from the domestic league’s three leading clubs: South China, Happy Valley and Lai Sun. South China had taken over the throne since Seiko’s demise after the 85/86 season. They had won seven straight titles from ’79 through to ’85. South China, with a host of internationals in the Italia ’90 qualification, won four from five titles from ’86 through to ’90, only interrupted by Happy Valley’s success in the 88/89 season.
There is no information available regarding line-ups for Hong Kong’s previous matches in 1989, so to say that they were an unknown quantity to us is hardly an understatement.
Team news Japan
Having concluded a set of three friendlies earlier in the month, the Japanese team at least should have obtained some level of match fitness. They were probably looking at this as a winnable fixture, and perhaps even as a must win tie, considering North Korea had won in Indonesia yesterday.
Manager Yokoyama appeared to have an idea of which players to make use of, at least to an extent. Judging by the players who had featured during the three May friendlies, they had been set up in a 3-5-2 formation, and he was unlikely to make wholesale changes for this their opening qualifier.
Again, very little in terms of public information is available when it comes to today’s referee, South Korean Ki-chul Kil. We do know that he’d been selected for the U16 World Cup in Scotland the following month. There, he would ultimately run the rule over one match: The group stage encounter between USA and Australia (2-2).
Hong Kong (4-5-1)
|1 Chan Shu Ming
|2 Sui Wing Leung (c)
|3 Kwok Sum Yu
|5 Ping On Chan
|6 Kam Fai Ku
|7 Timothy Bredbury
|8 Chan Fat Chi
|10 Leslie Santos
|11 Wing Cheung Lai
|14 Chi Tak Cheung
|19 Kin Tak Yue
|13 Kin Wo Lee
|16 Yan Nang Leung
|17 (back-up ‘keeper)
|1 Shigetatsu Matsunaga (c)
|Nissan Motors Yokohama
|3 Tomoyuki Kajino
|Yanmar Diesel Osaka
|5 Tetsuji Hashiratani
|Nissan Motors Yokohama
|6 Takumi Horiike
|7 Masami Ihara
|9 Masaaki Mori
|Fujita Industrial Tokyo
|10 Masanao Sasaki
|16 Mitsunori Yoshida
|Yahama Motors Iwata
|17 Osamu Maeda
|All Nippon Airways
|23 Kenta Hasegawa
|Nissan Motors Yokohama
|26 Kasumi Oenoki
|Yahama Motors Iwata
|2 Katsuyoshi Shinto
|8 Takashi Mizunuma
|Nissan Motors Yokohama
|19 (back-up ‘keeper)
Our footage from the game begins with a very much contemporary-correct vignette, and the late 80s synthesized musical accompaniement serves to emphasize this impression. Alas, we’re without the opening seven minutes of the game, hence we’re unable to describe the very moment of kick-off other than that it had been performed by the home side. However, the all white-clad visitors are in possession of the ball, and with the game unfolding, we would see how this would develope into a distinct pattern: Japan were making use of the ball, while the home team, in all red, were rather sitting back trying to soak up pressure and looking to catch them on the break.
During the half-time break, we’re entitled to some first half highlights, and since we’d entered proceedings late, we had been unaware of the opening 45 minutes’ biggest opportunity. A free-kick for the home side from some distance, probably around 30 yards, had been struck very well, left-footed, by the enigmatic Timothy Bredbury, who’d curled it low to the left of the wall, drawing a one-handed stop by goalkeeper Shigetatsu Matsunaga. The visiting captain had pushed the ball on to the post and away to safety. This would’ve been during the opening seven minutes.
Our first ten minutes
Once our tape reaches the ten minute mark, we’re already more than a quarter of an hour into the first half, and while Japan are the team with the bulk of the possession, it is the hosts who arrive at the best opportunities yet. Hong Kong look organized and committed; they were certainly not shy to display their bite in challenges. And they fought the visitors out of any rhythm which the Japanese would’ve hoped to build momentum from.
While we’d seen that Bredbury free-kick during the interval highlights reel, the former Liverpool based striker would arrive at yet another fine chance from which the hosts could’ve moved ahead. Japan had failed to clear a left wing corner from Wing Cheung Lai, their wide left midfielder. The ball had worked its way to Bredbury just inside the right corner of the area, and from there he attempted a ferocious drive with his left foot, only to see it ricochet away from the fortunate leg of Japan defender Tomoyuki Kajino, one of their three central defenders. Had the 28 year old of Yanmar Diesel Osaka not intervened, there is every chance that the ball would’ve ended up in the back of the net. Bredbury even got to the rebound for a second bite at the cherry, although he was far from accurate on that occasion, seeing the ball nearly drift out of touch.
So with Hong Kong having come close to taking the lead within the first quarter of an hour, visitors Japan had hardly had the ideal opening to the game. They were the ones with the majority of the possession, as they looked neat and tidy in their midfield passing, although there was sadly little penetration hitherto. They had also set out to play with three central defenders, something which perhaps seemed a bit exaggerated against an opponent which featured just a solitary forward, although libero Masami Ihara, the 21 year young, strapping defender, was not foreign to crossing the halfway line to lend a helping hand inside opposition territory. He’d even attempted a long range shot which had gone woefully wide.
Visiting boss Kenzo Yokoyama had organized his starting eleven in a 3-5-2 formation. With wide players who looked more adapt defensively than in coming forward, they had been somewhat tail heavy in the opening sequences, although there was still plenty of time for improvement. Goalkeeper Matsunaga had already earned his worth by saving that free-kick from Bredbury. The 26 year old was one of three starters who were plying their daily trade with Nissan Motors of Yokohama, who had just won the domestic league title for the very first time. Matsunaga was wearing the captain’s armband.
As we’ve already touched on, Ihara was their spare man of defence, operating slightly behind the two other central defenders, among which 23 year old Takumi Horiike was keeping an eye on the lively Bredbury. So far Japan’s number 6 was finding it difficult to live with the former Liverpool reserves striker. With both Ihara and Horiike on the young side, their three man defensive unit was completed by the oldest member of the starting line-up in Tomoyuki Kajino, who had been on hand to block Bredbury’s most recent effort.
Their midfield comprised two wide players, two box to box men, and indeed a holding player. With three central defenders against an opponent which only featured a single starting forward, one could have been forgiven for at least thinking that Yokoyama would’ve not felt the need to employ a defensive member among his five midfielders. However, this was the role which had been given to Tetsuji Hashiratani, the second Nissan player in their select. Hashiratani would work just ahead of the back three, and he did not appear particularly adventurous in possession. He’d gladly accept his Wasserträger duties within the team, and shift the ball on to a more creative player.
Ahead of Hashiratani in midfield were the third recently crowned league champion in Nissan’s Kenta Hasegawa. The 23 year old seemed a keen runner, and he was also prone transporting the ball in the forward direction when Japan looked to take advantage of some rare open spaces inside the Hongkongese half. Across from him, to Hashiratani’s advanced left, was the somewhat more anonymous 24 year old Kasumi Oenoki of Yahama Motors Iwata, the team which had ended the season in third place. Oenoki hadn’t really revealed much about himself as yet.
Wide to the right was 27 year old Masaaki Mori of Tokyo club Fujita Industrial, the team which had finished the season fourth. Mori was clearly the more adventurous among the two wide men, and would use his pace and off-the-ball ability to decent effect along this flank, looking to combine with either Hasegawa or one of the two forwards. Operating the left hand side was Masanao Sasaki, a clearly more defensively-focused player from lowly Honda of Hamamatsu. He did seem to possess a fine left foot, though the only time which he’d joined in attack saw him cross the ball way too deep for anyone to get on the end of.
The tandem up top were Osamu Maeda of All Nippon Airways (ANA Club), the league runners-up, and Mitsunori Yoshida from Yamaha Motors Iwata. They both seemed willing to make runs in order to provide an outlet for their midfielders to aim at. Yoshida had probably been the more eye-catching thus far, although he’d been dealt with pretty strongly by the home defence. A run into the right hand channel saw him brutally hacked to the ground by Kam Fai Ku, as the Hong Kong centre-back arrived way too late in an attempted tackle. The referee ought to have produced the yellow card for the defender, who had a fortunate escape. Japan had failed to make use of the free-kick which followed.
Events out on the pitch hardly bring the spectators to the edge of their seats. There’s a fine turn-out, and the stand opposite from where the TV cameras are fitted appears well populated, with fans from both hosts and visitors (suggesting a limited concept of segregation) present.
The home side are looking to remain compact, denying the visitors space in which to manoeuvre, although there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of creativity in the Japanese team’s ranks. Perhaps could Hong Kong even have allowed themselves the luxury of being slightly more adventurous? Manager Ka Ming Kwok is clearly keen on securing a point from this their opening fixture, and so their game plan remains intact: safety first. During the first half hour, they’ve not conceded more than a solitary half chance, as a Sasaki cross from the left had reached Yoshida on the near post, although the striker had been under pressure from two Hong Kong defenders, and so had failed to aim his header towards goal.
It is fair to name Hong Kong’s eleven in a 4-5-1 formation, and they make use of a libero behind a marking centre-back, and with a holding central midfielder behind the creative Santos, and with Chan Fat Chi looking to support Bredbury up top through surging forward runs.
Chan Shu Ming has not been tested so far, and the 30 year old ‘keeper is difficult to judge based on the first half an hour of play. He’s only really plucked a couple of crosses out from the air, although he’s not been physically challenged by either of the two Japan strikers.
Their captain is spare man Sui Wing Leung, the only registered Happy Valley, the domestic league champions, starter. Leung is one of three players aged 31 in what is a considerably more senior team than the visitors’ select. He can often be seen very deep, something which mirrors a remnant from past times, but he is also not afraid to accept responsibility in transporting the ball in the forward direction. He is aptly assisted at the heart of the defence by Kam Fai Ku, the player who had unceremoniously clattered into Yoshida earlier. Ku is one of at least five starters from league runners-up South China (we lack information on the address of three from their starting eleven). He does look a bit rash at times, but is certainly not afraid to put himself about.
The pair of full-backs are Chi Tak Cheung, a 30 year old, along the right, and another experienced campaigner in Lai Sun team mate Kwok Sum Yu to the left. The latter, 31, is not foreign to wearing the captain’s armband, although on this occasion this particular distinction was with their libero. Both flank defenders would appear to work under instructions which limit their attacking freedom.
Ping On Chan, 29, sits at the rear of their midfield, which in the centre is built in three steps: Chan has the team’s youngest member Leslie Santos, the 21 year old son of Portuguese and British parents, ahead of him, whilst Chan Fat Chi, another 31 year old, works ahead of playmaker Santos, doing his best to assist the lone forward by making runs from midfield whenever they go on the attack. Santos and even Chi accept off-the-ball work, and they contribute in closing down opponents. Santos is even a keen tackler. He looks quite a tenacious little player.
They had already made a substitution inside the opening 25 minutes, with their starting right-sided midfield man Kin Tak Yue, of whom we have precious little information, having left the pitch to be replaced by a 21 year old named Kin Wo Lee of Lai Sun. Yue had predominantly stuck to the wide areas before being withdrawn, and Lee would continue much in the same vein. One would assume that the reason for his early departure was an injury, although there was no visual confirmation of such.
To the left was Wing Cheung Lai, a fragile-looking 26 year old, who clearly enjoyed plenty of attacking freedom along his flank. He would relish darting forward ball at feet, and was not afraid to take a defender on and try and swing a cross in. He did look like a player whom the Japanese would need to keep an eye on.
Lone striker was the already mentioned Bredbury, who looked to put himself about, and who also accepted carrying out dirty work through runs in the channels and holding the ball up for team mates to join in attack. Bredbury had a lot of energy about him, and was indeed a big handful for the Japanese defence so far. He had in fact been somewhat unlucky not to have got his name on the scoresheet following those earlier goal attempts. Could he keep this level of performance up through to full time?
Final 15 minutes of first half
The game did not contain a whole lot of quality; the pitch could partly be to blame, but first and foremost it must be said that neither team excelled. Hong Kong did seem fairly content with soaking up whatever Japan had to throw at them, which in fairness was not a whole lot. Their typical build-up would be passing it from the back, where one of the three centre-halves gave the ball to holding midfield man Hashiratani, who in turn would seek out either Oenoki or, more frequently, Hasegawa, for one of these two to advance forward. Usually, the ball would end up in a wide position, and particularly Mori along the right hand side was active. The final ball would typically lack in direction, with one exception, which had been around ten minutes from the break, as Horiike had intercepted a pass inside the hosts’ half of the pitch, before he burst forward along the left. His cross did reach Maeda inside the area, although the striker failed to connect first time, as the ball only trickled wide from the inside of his boot.
At times, it got a bit feisty. Whilst only around 5’5 (1,65m) above the floor, Hong Kong’s skillful midfield man Santos was not afraid to put his boot in. He had gone in studs first in a challenge on Hashiratani, who went to the ground in agony. The referee, however, didn’t deem it worthy of even a free-kick. In an attempt at restoring parity, Kajino then went through Chi only a couple of minutes after play had been resumed. On this occasion the referee had given a free-kick, although no stern words from the impartial had been uttered.
The Japanese had also resorted to long distance shooting when they felt that there was not a whole lot of movement ahead of the player carrying the ball. Oddly, these attempts would just as often come from a centre-back as from a midfielder or even a forward, with both Ihara and Kajino having shots well off target from distance.
With just over a minute of time added on completed, the referee signalled for the half-time break. The more than 16,000 present would be hoping that the second half could turn out an improvement on the first 45 minutes, which in earnest had contained very limited entertainment value.
Our video from this qualifier contains even the full run-time during the 15 minutes long interval. Regrettably, our grasp of either of Japenese (as spoken by the commentators) or Cantonese (written on-screen) is non-existing, so the dividend we get from it all is at a minimum. At least we had been visually presented with that major opportunity from Timothy Bredbury’s free-kick, but it was fast forward to kick-off, and the Japanese forward pairing of Yoshida and Maeda would get the final 45 minutes under way, with the visitors kicking from right to left as we were viewing.
There had been no changes in either line-up during the half-time break.
Hong Kong early dominance
The hosts had come back out revigorated, and they were looking to cause the Japanese team some problems early doors. Just a minute into the restart it was that man Bredbury who again went close as he had received a lay-off from Lai, from which he struck first time with the outside of his right boot 22-23 yards out. The effort only went half a yard wide of the upright, with Matsunaga rooted to his spot.
It was in particular down their right hand side which Hong Kong were looking menacing. Right-back Cheung, indeed one of their better players, was contributing aplenty coming forward, and seemed to combine well with first half substitute Lee. Together they made Sasaki look very ordinary in that wide left position for the visitors, although it ought to be said that he didn’t receive an awful lot of assistance from Oenoki, the midfielder inside of him. Another relatively impressive home performer was central defender Ku, who would trot forward and participate deep inside enemy territory. He was instrumental in carving out the next opportunity, which occured less than five minutes into the second half. Horiike had first been able to defeat Bredbury in the air in a quest for the ball which Lai had lofted past Matsunaga, but upon recouping the ball, Ku had set up the completely unmarked Cheung for a go from inside the area. The right-back had had so much time that he could set himself up for a go with his favoured right foot, although he had failed to keep his effort down. It was disappointing how he’d not even made the ‘keeper work from 12 yards out. Massive opportunity.
Japan steady ship
Having let their guard down after the restart, the Japan team gradually got their act together, and they reseized something at least resembling a grip of the proceedings. Hashiratani appeared a key player for them in that holding midfield spot, and although he, too, had struggled to leave his print in the previous few minutes, he would soon get a grip on Chi and Santos, and he would set Maeda up for a pop goalwards on 53 minutes. However, the livelier of the two visiting forwards couldn’t find the inside of the post with his low shot from 20 yards, seeing it drift just wide of Ming’s post.
It was a much more seeworthy contest in the opening quarter of an hour of the second half, with both teams certainly looking to make things happen. Hong Kong’s gallant effort to shock the visitors had almost paid off, while Japan’s presumed greater quality then appeared to see them regain a similar level of control which they had enjoyed for the majority of the first half.
Hosts eat their way into the contest once again
With little or a not very concrete game plan, Japan’s initiative seems futile. And in fact they won’t maintain their upper hand on this occasion, rather seeing their efforts at controlling the fixture fizzle out. While they look relatively solid at the heart of the defence, the visitors’ midfield is unable to leave its print on proceedings, allowing the home side’s more competitive performers to stand out and retake the initiative. Through to the halfway point of the second half, it is Hong Kong certainly looking like the ones playing with their tails up.
Japan had gone through with their first substitution earlier, and like the home side, it had been their right-sided player leaving the pitch. Mori, who had made advance along his flank on a couple of first half occasions had been unable to threaten the Hong Kong left-back after the restart, and it would appear as if manager Yokoyama acted tactically in replacing him with Katsuyoshi Shinto. It proved to be a like for like swap. Not that it made the home side duly worried in the wake of the substitution.
The second half had shown that early level of promise, but it had turned out to be a false dawn, with neither side able to unlock the opposing defence. Through to 70 minutes of play, there has been no episode worthy of being mentioned in front of either goalkeeper, and the crowd could easily be forgiven for dozing off.
With less than 20 minutes remaining, Hong Kong introduce their second substitute of the evening as Chan Fat Chi, who had probably tired as the half had worn on, was replaced by the highly experienced Yan Nang Leung. Chi had not been in the game a whole lot since the start of the second period, and it made sense to take him off, perhaps to further bolster up their midfield as they were keen to hang on to that draw which at this point was their’s on merit. Whether or not substitute Leung was a relative of their captain remains unknown to us. At 35 years of age, he was four years the senior of their libero.
A genuine final push never materializes
Somehow, one is perhaps expecting Japan to up the ante towards the end of the game, as they had rarely shown much throughout the course of the evening. However, what we’d seen was what they had on offer; there was simply not enough quality in their ranks to warrant a late turn of events.
The away side would also make their second and final substitution of the evening when the rather disappointing Hasegawa was brought off for Takashi Mizunuma, another player with a certain international pedigree. As one of two inside midfielders, Hasegawa had enjoyed a somewhat decent first half, but after the break he’d faded into obscurity. Mizunuma, like the three previous players who had come on during the course of the game, was a direct replacement for his predecessor. This had turned out to be the case for Leung, the second Hong Kong substitute, too.
Japan have a couple of chances some seven-eight minutes from time, and particularly the one which fell to Oenoki from ten yards out was big. He needed to rush his effort as he was closed down by Lee, and eventually connecting with the outside of his right foot was not ideal from the position he was in. A left foot strike would’ve been a better option, though as it were, the shot went well off target. Just prior, Maeda had received Yoshida’s pass and cleverly turned and shot, only to see Ming push it into the side-netting for a right wing Japan corner.
The final effort of the game came with just over a minute to spare, as said Lee arrived in the centre of the area following a flick-on by Bredbury from Lai’s ball in. The first half substitute had enjoyed a fine second half, and with a greater level of technique, he could’ve snatched both points for the hosts in the dying minutes, only to see that left-footed effort drift a couple of yards wide of goal.
All in all, Japan had no reason to be dissatisfied. They would probably have considered a draw a point lost prior to kick-off, but the way the game went, Hong Kong were well worthy of a draw.
After North Korea had only managed a draw the day before, Japan had the chance to put early pressure on the group favourites by winning in Hong Kong. However, they could rarely build spells of sustained pressure, and so failed to put the home side’s defence and goalkeeper under serious threat. Hong Kong proved to be well organized and equipped with some fine battling skills, although this was a game with little quality. The at times lively Bredbury troubled the Japanese defence, and he’d drawn an early save from Matsunaga. The hosts were making sure to fight throughout, and eventually they were worthy of their point.
The home side’s three best players in this game: Sui Wing Leung, Chi Tak Cheung and Ping On Chan, whilst the Japanese’s three most influental ones were Tetsuji Hashiratani, Masami Ihara and Osamu Maeda.