Hong Kong International Hockey Tournament
The King’s Park Hockey Ground is located in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong. It’s not on the island itself, but on the bit of land adjacent to the Chinese mainland. It is also the venue for the Hong Kong International Hockey Tournament, which is an annual event that has been hosted here for over a decade. Men’s and women’s teams from around Asia have been invited and use it as a way to testing themselves against other similarly ranked sides.
Whilst I’m in Hong Kong, I speak to Ernest Li, who is the Secretary General of the Hong Kong Hockey Association (HKHA). He gives me a little background to what I am watching and a history to this tournament. He explains that this is actually an amalgamation of two separate events; the 10th Men’s Quadrangle and 5th Women’s Invitational.
The men’s event started 13 years ago and when opportunities started to arise, the HKHA began putting on a women’s tournament, on alternate years to the men. The Quadrangle was originally set up in preparation for the 2006 Asian Games. Ernest explains that there is a concerted effort to build up international playing experience for the national teams with the aim to consistently qualify for the Asian Games and to be able to compete against the better teams. The first tournament was paid for through a successful application to the Olympic Solidarity Fund, which helps to promote Olympic sports amongst participating nations. Since then they have received support and funding from the Hong Kong Government, who is actually trying to promote team sports in the territory. Over the years the events have grown and developed and this Is the first year that the HKHA has been able to host both the men’s and women’s events at the same time.
Whilst we are talking, Ernest brings up the HKHA umpires that are involved over the weekend. There are a number of umpires, both male and female, that have been trained through the hockey association and have recently gained FIH approval. He gives me some name drops here; Matthew Chor and Ravi Sethi have both been promoted to the FIH International Panel in the last two years. Impressively, they are still in their twenties. Rinky See and another umpire named Debbie, represent the female umpires at the tournament, who are also of the same standard as the men. Debbie was appointed to an African youth hockey five’s tournament and this was the first time that a Hong Kong official has gone to an African event. Ernest makes the point that hockey is more than just two teams playing and that the umpiring system has to progress alongside the standard of the league. He also tells me about the exchange programme that they are a part of. Alongside Malaysia, Singapore and Japan they exchange technical officials and umpires for local tournaments and league matches in order to give those people who are dedicated more opportunities to grow and develop and to demonstrate their abilities.
So, this is an invitational event for international teams, but due to Singapore not being able to attend, two local sides have been invited to participate in order to make a better show of things. In the women’s tournament Shenzhen has come across from the Chinese mainland; the city itself is just across the border and is fairly easy for the team to travel over. The President’s Select XI, is a type of representative side to help make up the numbers of the quadrangle and includes a number of Hong Kong under 21 players. The results of these sides will count towards the overall standings of the tournament, but will not go towards the FIH rankings of the international sides.
The tournament is being run from the 21st to the 24th of March. I’ve turned up on Day 3 and the first game is a 12.30 push back between the hosts Hong Kong and Thailand in the women’s category. The Thai’s definitely show more attacking purpose in the first quarter, but the home nation put in some decent defensive work, operating a half court press and at times a quarter court press in order to keep the visitors at bay. Hong Kong though has been struggling to retain possession, and therefore, find it hard to mount attacks at the opposition goal. I can’t think of a ball fired competitively at the Thai keeper until the fourteenth minute, when the home team drag one wide. Thailand go immediately up the other end and get a perfect opportunity, an open goal falling to their number 17. She scuffs the shot, but wins a penalty corner, from which they score the first of the match, with just 35 seconds of the quarter remaining.
In the second quarter Hong Kong get forward with a bit more ease and have a decent chance, when a 50/50 near the top of the circle bounces backwards off the Thai keeper. The visitors have most of the possession and look a bit more precise in their passing, stroking the ball about, gently probing for space. With two minutes of the half remaining, Thailand win the ball high up the pitch and with a lovely sweeping move, eliminate two Hong Kongese defenders and find an advancing midfielder with a pass to the back post to make the score 2 – 0.
There are no further goals in the third quarter, a stalemate, if you will. Thailand has still shown themselves to be the better team here, making better use of the height, depth and width of the pitch, but haven’t created clear enough opportunities to score.
Within minutes of the re-start of the final period, Thailand’s right winger (number 17) finds herself in loads of space, after moving inside to receive the ball. She makes the trap and sends a reverse stick strike past the keeper’s left foot to extend the lead to three goals. Two minutes later, she’s looking to add another to her tally, driving into the circle with the ball, but forces a good save from the goalie. She’s having a decent game today…
In the seventh minute there is a bit of a ping pong match inside the Hong Kong circle, which culminates with the goal keeper actually stepping over the ball, as it moves towards her, allowing for an easy tap in at the far post; Thailand 4 – 0 Hong Kong. With four minutes remaining Thailand make use of some free space in midfield and make their way to the Hong Kong left hand post, sending the ball across the face of the goal for another tap in. Soon afterwards, Hong Kong have a chance to get one back, with their number 14 finding space on the right hand side, but sends the ball over the bar. The game ends in a 5 – 0 win for Thailand.
The second match of the day sees Shenzhen, who play all in red, take on Chinese Taipei, in their white kit, with a black trim. Shenzhen is the city described above, that is based just across the border in mainland China and have travelled across for this tournament to help the organisers to make up four teams. Their results count towards the tournament standings, but won’t count towards the world ranking positions of the international teams. Chinese Taipei is the name used by Taiwan when the country competes in international sport, as agreed with the Chinese, as part of the Nagoya Resolution. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the official government of the Chinese mainland. The Government of Taiwan is officially called the Republic of China (ROC). During the Chinese Civil War, the Communists took control of the mainland and the ROC fled to the island of Taiwan. The PRC still claims sovereignty over Taiwan and describes the island as a province, although the local government disagrees. The name of the sports team takes it’s name from the regional capital city and is intentionally ambiguous in it’s political statement.
I have been impressed with Shenzhen. There is a hussle about them when going forward and they get a few shots off in the first quarter. They in fact get the first short corner of the game in the twelfth minute, but it’s spilt and the game moves on. Chinese Taipei aren’t shy though, and they are arguably hard done by when they aren’t awarded a penalty stroke in the first fifteen minutes. Shenzhen get another short corner with a little over two minutes remaining. The trap at the top of the circle this time is good and the ball is played back towards the injector, but she can’t quite convert, as she swings the stick over the top of the ball at the near post. The game is becoming an end to end competition and Chinese Taipei nearly score themselves, but the forward can’t quite stretch far enough to make contact. With 17 seconds remaining, Shenzhen get a third short corner. A drag flick sees the keeper paw the ball away and that’s the end of a fun and entertaining first quarter.
Shenzhen keep winning the short corners in the second quarter, but has a goal disallowed from one of them for a lifted strike, as the first hit cannons in off the crossbar. Shenzhen are coming forward in numbers and Chinese Taipei seem to be struggling to track opposition forwards every single time. To make matters worse Taipei seem to struggle to retain possession when going forward. They are playing a lot more directly then Shenzhen, looking for the long balls to run onto. With a little over two and half minutes left, Shenzhen take the lead with a straight shot from the top of the circle at a short corner. This is how the first half finishes, with the Chinese club leading the Chinese Taipei international team.
We are several minutes into the second half now and I’m losing count of the amount of short corners Shenzhen have had. Their conversion rate is pretty poor though and still haven’t managed to advance their scoreline. They are really moving the ball around nicely, interchanging well, using possession to move neatly up the pitch. About half way through the third quarter I start to notice that Chinese Taipei aren’t pressing particularly well, at least not as well as they were earlier on. I sense that there is a bit of fatigue setting in. Shenzhen mount a few attacks, but can’t add to their tally. 1 – 0 at the end of the third quarter.
Three minutes into the fourth quarter, Shenzhen try a variation on their short corner routine. The ball is slipped inside from the top of the circle and is deflected into the corner. Two goals to the good for the club team. They try the same thing again a couple of minutes later, forcing a left deflector pad save from the keeper. Towards the end of the game, Chinese Taipei seem to be just going through the motions. I notice that they have dropped quite far back and can only manage a quarter court press, as Shenzhen have the ball back towards the half way line. The game finishes Shenzhen 2 – 0 Chinese Taipei.
In the third match of the day, we are given a taste of the men’s tournament; Hong Kong vs. Thailand again, in a replay of the earlier women’s fixture. Hong Kong are in red, with a white chest, against Thailand in white, with blue sleeves. Thailand test the host’s keeper early, with a forward spinning the full back and sending a shot goal wards, before a rebound at the far post is sent at some pace, but strays wide of the target. 11 minutes in to the quarter, Shenzhen get the first short corner. It is sent to the player outside and to the left of the circle for a trick routine, which doesn’t quite come off, but looked interesting. The first 15 minutes has been played at a decent tempo, but the score remains 0 – 0 at the first break.
Shortly into the second quarter, Thailand are certain that they should have had a short corner for a foot foul. The umpire initially gave a free hit outside the circle, but after talking to the players decides to give a short corner. It’s promptly missed. There’s quite a fast paced tempo to the game with some good passing moves from both teams, but lacking in the final product. With two minutes of the half remaining we see the first green card of the day, for something that was, apparently, off the ball. A player for Hong Kong is told to sit down for the remainder of the period. As the teams go in for a cup of tea and a shake down from the coaches, it remains even and goalless.
The second half starts in moist conditions as the rain becomes slightly heavier. Hong Kong seem to be enjoying the conditions bit more, with some good possessions and as I’m writing this sentence they bury an open stick shot into the far post to open the scoring. 1 – 0 to the host nation. The captain of Thailand is taking the umpire to task over his viewpoint on something leading up to the goal and the game is delayed as the two men have it out. There is then some sort of stoppage, with the teams getting into a huddle as the two umpires have a chat. The goal seems to stand and the teams get ready again. The Thai captain is now chatting to some technical officials by the sideline and the players have been standing in the rain for a while now. The Hong Kong team are shouted over to their bench, by the coach, for a chat, Thailand have a huddle on the pitch and the umpires confer again. This time I think that we can begin and we do, but by Jove, what a cuffufle. The rain is starting to come down a bit heavier now and I’m quite pleased with having a roof over the main stand. The Hong Kong team are having more of the attacking opportunities at this point. Number 6 for the hosts is sent to the naughty chair for two minutes, for not retreating five metres, with only a few seconds remaining off the third period, which ends with just the one goal so far.
The rain is still coming down in the fourth quarter and Thailand start to mount some more attacks. The two teams seem to be taking turns to have a go at each other, with varying amounts of success. Very few clear cut chances are being carved out though, with a number of crashed balls being put into the respective circles. Six minutes into the final quarter, Hong Kong breakaway with a counter attack. Two forwards find themselves behind defensive lines and running at the goal. The ball carrier slips the ball right to his colleague, who is then wiped out by the Thai keeper; Penalty Stroke! With an open stick push to the keeper’s left the attacker is able to make it 2 – 0. Thailand come straight back, with a shot taken from the right side of the circle, the ball takes a deflection, loops up towards the goal and a Thai attacker seizes on the opportunity to put it over the line on the volley. 2 – 1. There’s some more excitement, soon after, with the Hong Kong keeper in action again, deflecting the ball away, with his free hand. This is the most action that he’s had in a while. With six minutes remaining, Hong Kong get another sin bin. Discipline seems to be a problem here, but to be fair both teams have been getting stuck in, and the keeper has to make another save from a Thai attack down the left. Four and a half minutes remain and this time Thailand are given a sin bin, the players are up for this one. Hong Kong are really starting to take advantage of Thailand’s high back line and are playing a lot of direct balls on the counter attack. They edge forward themselves and get caught on the counter by the Thai’s. An attack down the left commits the Hong Kong keeper, it’s slipped passed him for an open goal for two forwards. They both miss it, and with only 13 seconds left to play that pretty much represents the final say on matters. The game ends 2 – 1.
After four days of matches, we have a final table of standings and a number of individual awards to make mention of…