Hong Kong footballers fight to a 0-0 draw with China to hold on to top spot

Hong Kong footballers fight to a 0-0 draw with China to hold on to top spot

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Head coach Kim Pan-gon (L4) and Hong Kong team's (from left) Cheng King-ho, Christian Annan, Festus Baise, assistant coach Liu Chun-fai and goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai in cheers after the draw against China.
Photo: Edward Wong/SCMP

Thanks to incredible hard work for over 90 minutes from every player on the pitch - and more than a bit of luck, Hong Kong remain top of their World Cup qualifying group with seven points from three games.

Not since they beat China 2-1 in Beijing in 1985 have Hong Kong avoided defeat to "Big Brother".

Hong Kong fans had to be on their best behaviour during the match, as they had been warned that there could be jail time if they got out of hand. There was a lot of security there just in case Hong Kong's fans booed the national anthem of China, but they treated  the March of the Volunteers with due respect.

"You can say it was a blessed night for Hong Kong," said head coach Kim Pan-gon. "I am very proud of the players - even though we are in preseason we gave our best. They gave their all and fought for the name of Hong Kong soccer.

Hong Kong's Bai He, center, (4), jumps for a header as China's Zhang Linpeng, left, tries to defend.
Photo: AP

Kim admitted luck played an important role after the home team failed to take their chances, but was overjoyed by his players' attitude.

"China created a number of good chances in the first half, but our players continued to fight under difficult conditions."

China hit the post four times and could have had a big lead by half-time, but in the end the 2,200 travelling fans from just over the border were left delighted.

The result was all the more remarkable given that China's players - who are 72 places above Hong Kong in Fifa rankings - are midway through the Chinese Super League season, while the Hong Kong Premier League won't kick off until next week.

Hong Kong had an early setback when captain Chan Wai-ho twisted his knee and had to limp off, but replacement Jean Kilama rose to the occasion. His partnership with Baise Festus in the central defence was superb.

The home team were totally dominant throughout, but repeatedly denied by the woodwork, goalline clearances from Kilama and Baise, and some fine saves from goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai - and their own poor finishing.

Kim said they could look forward with optimism to their next qualifier, hosting the group's other big guns, Qatar, at Mong Kok Stadium on Tuesday.

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