They came, they scored, they wowed us

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 July, 2005, 12:00am

More than 30,000 soccer fans brought a festive mood to Hong Kong Stadium for the game between English giants Manchester United and Hong Kong.

They may have surrendered domestic superiority to London team Chelsea and been outshone in Europe by arch-rival Liverpool, but the pulling power of the Red Devils showed no signs of waning in East Asia.

Like any exhibition game, the match was more of a star-gazing event than a real sports competition. Both teams played at a slow tempo and neither goal was under much serious threat for long periods of the game.

Not surprisingly, the English giants dominated both halves, but failed to score until the 69th minute, when Italian Giuseppe Rossi tucked in a cross from Ryan Giggs.

The loudest cheers rang out for Chinese debutant Dong Fangzhou when the Manchester United striker raced clear of the defence and clipped the team's second and final goal over Hong Kong goalkeeper Fan Chung-yip.

With the bombings in London and Egypt overshadowing the game, Hong Kong police stepped up security measures. Commissioner of Police Dick Lee Ming-kwai said extra officers were provided to protect the team during their visit.

But the fear of terrorism had little effect on the thousands of enthusiastic Manchester United supporters - some of them from Shanghai - who braved the stifling heat to get a close-up look at their heroes in action.

'We planned to come to Hong Kong this year and I always wanted to watch my team in action, so I chose to come at this time,' said mainland accountant Zhang Weimin.

Inside the stadium, the atmosphere was festive. Fans painted their faces red and cheered every tackle, pass and shot.

'I think this time is the best because they have brought many first-team players to Hong Kong,' said saleswoman Maggie Chan.

Some fans said they were disappointed that Portuguese wonder kid Cristiano Ronaldo missed the tour, but added no individual was greater than the team.

Despite the below-par performance, fans said they were happy just to watch their heroes play. 'I'm not disappointed. I think they did okay,' said student Matthew Yua.