Forty-eight teams. 500 players. 500 people who must have fought just as hard as the Hong Kong team to make it this far. 500 hopes and dreams and stories.

Cape Town was the perfect host for the tournament. From her sparkling blue skies to the warmth of the thousands of spectators who came to see the games, it was hard not to get caught up in the intense energy of the event.

“This is pure joy!” Shanghai Boy yelled through the din of drums and cheers, whoops and chants on opening day.

The players were marching from their dormitories to the city centre. A show of unity that turned into a spontaneous party as first one team, then another, and another broke out in song and dance. Our boys were a little overwhelmed at first, but even they got into the swing of things. And when Ah Wa – normally shy, reticent Ah Wa- led us in a spirited cheer, we knew this event would be life-changing.

Our team has problems, was Wai Tung’s constant refrain just before we left for South Africa. It was fractious, caught up in petty politics, some of its players were defensive, uncooperative, hard to motivate. The mood in the run-up to the World Cup had been subdued. Even we were worried.

But in Cape Town, we witnessed a transformation. It was evident in the way Ah Lung stood taller, looked calmer, took charge after being made captain of the team.

We watched as Shanghai Boy – normally a loner not prone to taking instructions – played his heart out. Played every match with a commitment that took everyone, including the coach, by surprise.

And we cheered Ah Hung when he had to stand in, last minute, as the team’s goalkeeper. The pressure was intense. But Ah Hung – he of the legendary temper, he who once stormed off the pitch in a magnificent huff – kept his cool.

What was the most memorable moment of the games? Was it when Desmond Tutu high-fived Ah Lung? Or was it the time when a stadium of strangers decided to back the Hong Kong team? Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong!

One cloudless day we headed to the beach after our boys trounced Team USA 11-3. Sweet victory following a seven-match losing streak. The mood had been subdued that morning. Everyone was sick of losing. Losing badly. Losing heart. But on that morning, the team finally came together.

By the fifth goal, we were all beside ourselves. And when Hong Kong went on to beat Norway 3-2 later in the day, the high, the high was unbelieveable.

The team celebrated on Camps Bay Beach, with a spontaneous waterfight.

“A year ago, I never thought I’d be here.” Ah Hung said.

We all turned to look at the sunset.

It was brilliant.