For many Asian players, even rubbing shoulders with global power like Manchester United would be a fond memory to cherish. But Hong Kong midfielder Lam Ka Wai can pride himself on a serious of brilliant displays against the Red Devils, including scoring through a wonder-strike.
The date was 29 July 2013. Manchester United were four goals up against hosts Kitchee after 53 minutes in what looked a one-sided friendly. The match looked beyond the home side and even their supporters in the full-packed Hong Kong Stadium began chanting for the visiting stars.
But all of a sudden, the Hong Kong champions pulled one back. Vice-captain Lam Ka Wai wriggled past Michael Carrick before unleashing a curling drive from the top of the area. Manchester United reserve keeper Ben Amos did touch the ball with his fingers but couldn't prevent it flying into the left top corner. Minutes later, Lam set up Alex to halve the deficit, as his through ball perfectly found the team-mate who slotted home.
The game ended in 5-2 in Manchester United's favour but Kitchee earned their rivals' respect. "Kitchee has some very good players. They caused problems for us," the Red Devils' then manager David Moyes commented after the match, apparently impressed by Lam and Co.
"It was one of my best goals," the 30-year-old told FIFA.com reflecting on the memorable match. "Fans and media focused on discussing the way how I scored but I think it can be more attributed to my confidence and mentality than my technique. Courage is most important when you challenge world-class stars."
*Domestic progress *
Renowned for his sublime passing and shooting techniques, the diminutive attacking midfielder has long been considered one of the best players Hong Kong have seen over recent years. A product of the Yee Hope FC's youth academy, Lam was signed by Hong Kong Rangers in 2002 as a teenager but it is with Kitchee that he has made his name.
Since moving to the local giants in 2008, he has won four league titles plus a cup crown. At continental level, he helped Kitchee progress to the knockout stage in the past three AFC Cups, notably steering his side to the semi-finals in last year's edition - the best result for any Hong Kong club since the inauguration of Asia's second-tier club showpiece.
"Kitchee have made good progress over recent years," said Lam, who earned the Most Valued Player award in Hong Kong three years ago. "We have become a genuine force to be reckoned with in the AFC Cup. This proves that we are going in the right direction."
Lam's international form is similarly impressive, having scored eight times from 33 appearances across ten years which makes him the top-scorer of the current Hong Kong squad. His latest came in the last 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier against Maldives, when he sealed the 2-0 victory with a sublimely-taken free-kick.
"My idol is Spanish star David Silva," continued the Kitchee and Hong Kong No10. "Former Hong Kong stars like Wu Kwok Hung, Cheung Sai Ho and Chiu Chung Man are also my favourites from whom I have drawn inspiration. I am not the best in Hong Kong in terms of individual technique, but I am good in reading the play. I hope to help my team with my ten-year international experience."
Lam did propel his side to two opening victories on the road to Russia 2018. He converted a spot-kick as they thrashed Bhutan 7-0, before netting the match-winner against Maldives which saw Hong Kong move into top place in a group also featuring China PR and Qatar.
“We have got off to a good start. But in this group China and Qatar are stronger teams than us. Though, we will have our own chances if we get some results against the two rivals in the next games,” he said referring to the forthcoming qualifying fixtures in early September.
Three decades ago, Hong Kong stunned China 2-1 away in a crucial qualifier for Mexico 1986 as they progressed into Asia’s final qualifying round at the rivals’ expense. And Lam is keen to repeat that feat when they meet again in Shenzhen, China next Thursday.
“I can’t wait for the match,” he concluded. “We have nothing to lose. We shall watch their videos as much as possible. Only hard work can prepare us better against such tough opponents.”