Hong Kong and China Draw Nil All in Epic Encounter
November 17th saw Hong Kong finally face China and it was billed as the “Game of the decade” if not the century. The eagerly awaited Hong Kong versus China match definitely lived up to it’s billing as a night of high drama, intensity and passion that unfolded before the 6,000 or so inside the stadium and the millions across Hong Kong, China and around the world. In Hong Kong, the fans who were lucky enough to get a ticket savoured one of the greatest if not the greatest football event in Hong Kong ever played while hundreds of thousands more crowded around televisions and screens in bars, restaurants and at public screenings.
For once football fever had gripped Hong Kong as this had gone beyond the realms of a mere game; this was for pride and a statement of self-identity. Given the cultural and political events of the past two years, the game had an added edge and intensity which simply could not be separated as it was constantly played up especially by the Hong Kong media.
Thus, on game day itself, there was an added police presence, more so than any other previous game and the gates opened much earlier than usual so the police could conduct complete bag searches. About two whole hours before the game kicked off, about three quarters of the ground was already filled up as fans started belting out fan songs; some polite and so not so polite.
The away China support arrived via a separate entrance and soon the two sets of fans were in fine voice and of course exchanging ‘colorful’ language with each other in the lead up of the game. You could not really place it down to ‘banter’ and views were strongly expressed. Stewards and police formed a thin line separating the two sets of fans from each other.
When kick off did come then as usual the normal point of contention would arise concerning the national anthem. As the anthem played, segments of the crowd held up “Boo” signs and a few “Hong Kong is not China”signs came up. There was booing from certain areas but this was also drowned out by the China away fans singing “March of the Volunteers’ absolutely full pelt so the two pretty much cancelled each other out. The game was set and an eager audience awaited.
Given China’s twelve goal blitz of Bhutan and Hong Kong’s sputtering wins over both the Bhutan and the Maldives away, China were the clear favorites and many thought that there was no way that Hong Kong could ride their luck anymore after escaping with a well earned point in the reverse fixture the past September in Shenzhen. In the end, Hong Kong put up a very disciplined and organized performance and despite being forced back in the beginning of the game, they began to edge back into the match with their own opportunities.
Both sides hit the woodwork in the first half, China hit the bar in the 27th minute when Yang Xu cannoned his header off the woodwork while Huang Bowen’s pile driver hit the post with Hong Kong keeper Yapp beaten. Hong Kong were also denied by the woodwork when Jaimes Mckee hit the bar with a towering header in the 30th minute. The game was closer than expected.
Given that Hong Kong had next to no possession in their reverse fixure a few months earlier then their opportunities were very encouraging for the fans. Hong Kong did have the ball in the back of the net in the first half when Festus Baise poked in a loose ball which fell to his feet after both Paulinho and Wang Dalei jostled for the ball. The crowd erupted for only a brief few seconds before the reality of the no goal call was made. In the second half, Hong Kong defintely had more possession and attacking intent though China had the better chances.
In the 77th minute Yu Hai had an excellent opportunity to score with his double effort with the second chance having been deemed to have crossed the line. This was a highly debated call and with no hawk eye technology at Mong Kok stadium, we will never know. China hit the bar again in injury time and Hong Kong somehow survived again which earned another valuable point.
The stadium erupted in relief at the final whistle and China were left to rue the endless chances they had over a total of 180 minutes in both games and at the time of writing, China national team fans have taken to social media to express their outrage, the CFA website has been hacked and the CFA have made an official apology. Hong Kong now have up to four months to prepare for their away game in Qatar which could not only decide their fate but also the fate of the Chinese National Team. Hong Kong does not experience this type of atmosphere enough! A truly historical and incredible event which will be remembered for the ages and we may never see the likes of it again…until China roll into town again.
Under-Par Hong Kong Sneak Away Win in the Maldives
An under-par Hong Kong grabbed a valuable away win in the Maldives through a Paulinho penalty. Hong Kong failed to reproduce their normally slick passing game and seemed to struggle to gain any cohesion. Regardless, a Paulinho penalty was all that was needed to get the three points and a second solid place in their world cup group.
The match had question marks over it given the political strife occurring in the Maldives at the time but the government in the Maldives gave reassurances that safety would be guaranteed.
All pictures courtesy of Ryan Kam, Willio, JRP Borthwick, Chris KL Lau
Christopher KL Lau is a freelance writer and photographer. Follow him on Twitter