Soccer fans today can tune in to cheer on several stars from the Taiwan men’s national team as Tainan TSG (Taiwan Steel Group) represent Taiwan at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup qualifiers in Hong Kong.
Competing with their Tainan TSG teammates are five national squad members — including midfielder Wu Chun-ching, goalkeeper Pan Wen-chieh and defender Chen Wei-chuan — who arrived in Hong Kong last week after concluding Taiwan’s run in Asia’s group stage of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, where they had a narrow 2-1 defeat to hosts Kuwait.
Wu — last season’s Most Valuable Player in the Taiwan Football Premier League — Pan and Chen led Tainan TSG to capture the league title and are expected to start in the Group J opener against Mongolia’s Athletic 200 FC at the Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground.
The Tainan TSG players were inoculated against COVID-19 before their flight to Hong Kong, where a “competition bubble” has been set up, with each team moving as a group from hotel meals and accommodation to the training ground and back to the hotel.
After today’s opener, Tainan TSG are to face Hong Kong’s Lee Man on Saturday and the territory’s Eastern Long Lions on Tuesday next week.
Fans in Taiwan fans can watch broadcasts of all three matches on ELTA TV, HamiVideo or Chunghwa Telecom’s MOD Channel 202.
Since their return to Taiwan last week, the rest of the Taiwan men’s national team have been in quarantine, but the Taipei Times asked manager Henry Von for his assessment of their performance in Kuwait.
Team Taiwan have potential, but still face many challenges and need more international experience, Von said.
“The squad as a whole lacked time playing together in matches,” he said. “This was one of the key problems. We worked extensively to build up their confidence.”
Asked about the first match, a 0-2 defeat to Nepal, Von said that Nepal had played five to six friendlies, as well as a warm-up game against Iraq a few days before facing Taiwan.
“They got used to the high level of intensity in game conditions,” Von said. “I think we were a little unlucky in that game, but life goes on — and overall, I am happy with the devotion and effort shown by the players during this intense period.”
The players had to adjust to challenging conditions — Kuwait is hot and arid, even for night matches, which made breathing difficult when running, Von added.
“In a short period, we had to train to get better organized defensively and try to avoid conceding goals, while on offense, we worked on fast counterattacks,” he said.
“We tried to keep a winning mentality, to never give up during a game, to make them play more aggressively and to have a fighting spirit — to represent the nation and the people back home,” he said.
“I believe the players understood the message very well and they had a fantastic spirit during the three-game campaign,” Von said. “The players fought valiantly to put on a good display, to show their commitment to Taiwan and earn the respect of our coaching staff.”
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