By Kim Boram
INCHEON, Sept. 26 (Yonhap) -- In the round of 16 men's football match between host South Korea and Hong Kong at the Asian Games on Thursday, a head coach familiar to South Korean football fans was giving orders and encouraging his players on the pitch from Hong Kong's bench.
Kim Pan-gon, who took the helm of Hong Kong's football team in 2009, was a former South Korean defender who didn't leave much of a mark in South Korean football.
He made his Korean professional league debut in 1992 and retired after five years. He served as an assistant coach for a few club teams in the first-tier K-League but had never been promoted to head coach.
But he has been making great strides in Hong Kong football.
In the latest world football rankings, Hong Kong is ranked at No. 164 among FIFA's 209 members.
Among 46 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) countries, it ranks 33rd, with only Bangladesh, Laos, Nepal and East Timor behind it at this year's Asiad.
In 2009, Hong Kong mapped out a 10-year plan, called Project Phoenix, to upgrade the sport to help the country become a dark horse on the world stage.
Kim is in the center of the project, leading the country's national squads in all age groups, from youth to senior, to pick out young talents and foster them to become "decisive" players who can determine the outcome of the game.
"Our aim is to build a player to decide the game in the coming 10 years. For the goal, we are creating a nationwide curriculum to improve the training system for youth football," said Kim.
"I'm studying their strong and weak points to discover effective ways to teach young players," the coach added. "Under the curriculum, I want to cultivate players who have better techniques, physical strength and understanding of football."
Hong Kong football head coach Kim Pan-gon (Yonhap file photo)
Kim's endeavor has already borne fruit at Incheon.
Hong Kong, considered an underdog, was expected to pack up and leave after the group round matches.
But Kim's squad grabbed a berth in the round of 16 after wins against Afghanistan and Bangladesh and a stunning 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan, which is ranked 58th in the world.
In the knockout stage, Kim faced his native South Korea, No. 63 in the FIFA rankings. His defense-oriented strategy troubled the Koreans and the two teams finished the first half 0-0.
"I don't like to meet a stronger country like South Korea. Against countries at a similar level, we can play our football, pressing from the front line," Kim said. "But against South Korea, we defended our box to block its crosses from the sides."
Hong Kong put its 10 field players into the box and they held their ground for nearly 60 minutes. Then South Korea finally scored, and Hong Kong allowed two more goals to finish their last Asian Games match.
But Kim wasn't disappointed with the result. Rather, he saw hope in the game that the defeat could be a springboard for possible growth in the future.
"We kept the game scoreless for such a long time. My players really did a good job," he said. "It must be a good opportunity for them to experience the speed and movement of South Korea."