Kitchee Duo Cherish Experience despite AFC U-19 Ch

Football hardly ever offers aspiring young players a rosy straight path to stardom. Even the imaginary yet supremely talented Captain Tsubasa, inside the Japanese comic series that bears his name, does not come out winning every single game that he plays in. In real life, Kitchee young guns Ngan Cheuk-pan and Matthew Ho are fresh off their latest football disappointment, as the two Hong Kong Under-18 internationals and their teammates could not stop the side from crashing out of the AFC Under-19 Championship Qualifiers in Myanmar. With one win, one draw and two losses from a grueling series of group matches, Hong Kong came up short and failed to progress to next year’s finals in Bahrain. Yet that did not stop the Kitchee duo from leaving Myanmar with some long-lasting memories, memories that might stay with them for a very, very long time. Matthew Ho, currently a Form 6 student in the Diocesan Boys’ School, revealed he and his teammates were aiming for nothing less than a spot in next year’s finals, despite facing stiff competition from Vietnam, Myanmar, Timor Leste and Brunei Darussalam. “We all wanted to achieve what we did in the previous U-16 Championship, which was making it all the way to the finals. At the end, things did not quite work out for us and that was a real bummer,” Ho recalled. “Despite falling against Vietnam in the first game, I thought we played quite well and that really gave us good confidence for the rest of the tournament, yet we dropped the ball and ended up crashing out of the qualifiers...” One can still feel the hint of disappointment stemming out from Ho’s words. Ho, who score the equalizer for Hong Kong against Vietnam in the opening match, touched on the emotions that went through his body when he saw the ball hitting the back of the net. “It is an amazing feeling to represent Hong Kong in such a high caliber tournament and scoring against top-notch opponent such as Vietnam makes it even sweeter, especially when we were pinned down by the opponent for most of the game. Who would have thought we would be able to pull together and equalized before half-time through a counter-attack, when our fitness level had dropped quite a bit already. The whole process was just very memorable,” said the young Kitchee forward. Ngan Cheuk-pan, a veteran for Hong Kong in various youth tournaments, singled out the loss against Myanmar as a match that he will not soon forget. “The game attracted more than 4,500 spectators to the stadium and you can imagine the atmosphere. It is not often that a youth match can draw that kind of numbers and it is actually bigger than some of our Hong Kong Premier League crowds,” said the talented midfielder. “Playing in such a wonderful atmosphere really spurs you on, as you need to overcome the constant booing from the crowd and make sure your confidence and performance are not affected. Even if you squander a pass, you need to immediately pick yourself up and stay focused throughout the match.” Ngan, who has already forced his way into the Kitchee first team this season, also talked about the responsibility that comes with donning the Hong Kong shirt, as well as representing the city’s population. “I will admit that when I got called up for Hong Kong previously, maybe I was a bit too cocky about my own ability,” Ngan confessed. “However, as I get older, a sense of pride started to take over and I slowly realized I was chosen from a wide range of talented players to represent Hong Kong. This is a tremendous honour and that is why whenever I play for Hong Kong, I always try extra hard to win every game, so that I can tell people that Hong Kong football players have what it takes to play some good football!” While the Kitchee duo are currently in different stages of their career – Ngan has already made it to the club’s first team while Ho is still juggling his football aspirations with his academic responsibilities, it is safe to say that both players do cherish the honour and responsibility that come along with putting on that prestigious Hong Kong shirt. Despite hitting a small snag in their recent international experience, there seems to be a long road ahead for both promising young players in their still-rather-infant football careers. Let’s keep on fighting, young men!