World Cup 'D-day': Victory is only option for Hong Kong and China in what is expected to be a fiery clash
Explosive scenario for World Cup qualifier with anxious officials hoping local fans don't resort to booing national anthem at Mong Kok Stadium
Hong Kong football chiefs will be holding their breath tonight when players line up for a potentially explosive World Cup qualifier against China at Mong Kok Stadium.
First, they will be hoping fans behave and respect the national anthem of Hong Kong and China, March Of The Volunteers, after incurring Fifa's wrath for booing at three previous home matches. Then, they will be praying Hong Kong can upstage "Big Brother" to continue an unlikely march to the 2018 finals in Russia.
Hong Kong Football Association chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak has implored fans to focus solely on the game and resist provocative gestures. A production team from Fifa will be at the stadium to film the match - and the fans.
The choice of the smaller Mong Kok venue over a larger stadium is still a contentious issue - only 6,000 tickets were available. The quota for mainland fans was 500 and they will be kept in a separate section in the North Stand to avoid any potential clashes.
Both teams were confident yesterday of victory. Neither side can afford to get less than three points if they want to progress to the next round.
Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-gon admitted China would be stronger, but said an upset was always on the cards.
"We feel excited and are ready for the match as our target is to get three points," he said. "We know China well - their playing patterns, the tactics they have and the characteristics of each player.
"We have our game plan and know how to beat them, even if this is a big challenge for us. We play at the same venue every single week and are very familiar with the ground. With the support of fans and all citizens of Hong Kong who will cheer for us, we are very united and will try to show to the people we will fight for them."
China coach Alain Perrin said they had learnt from the game in Shenzhen in September when Hong Kong's defence repeatedly frustrated them in a 0-0 draw.
"We need a victory this time and must find a solution … we have to improve and be more efficient," he said. "After the game [lost] against Qatar [1-0], we now need to win all four remaining matches if we want to play in the next round."
His future as China coach could be on the line if they don't perform in remaining games. Some commentators say he should have been sacked after their loss to Qatar. His best bet seems to be to qualify as one of the four best second-placed teams to make the final qualifying round of the region.
China captain Zheng Zhi, the only player from the 2004 World Cup qualifier squad who played against Hong Kong, said he had almost forgotten the last campaign, but the target remained the same. "We want to win and get all three points to help the team move to the next round," Zheng said.
He said there would not be any hard feelings when he met Hong Kong captain-goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai today after the latter claimed Zheng had verbally abused him during the Shenzhen match.
"There are always incidents in soccer matches because it is a highly competitive sport," he said. "I respect opponents on the field and the teams we play against."
The result tonight will play a key role in deciding group C with Qatar favourites to finish top.
They have won all their five matches and are likely to add another victory tonight against Bhutan. Hong Kong are second with 13 points after six games and China are three points behind but have one game in hand.
Only the eight group winners go straight to the next round, along with four best runners-up.
Hong Kong have enjoyed a good run so far, being in a favourable group as a fifth-tier team - the lowest of the region.
But they have still had to work hard. Hong Kong needed a last-minute header from striker Chan Siu-ki to defeat minnows Bhutan in October, while the goalpost saved them four times in the first half against China. In their last away match, they only beat the Maldives 1-0.
In 1985, when China needed only a draw in Beijing against Hong Kong in the final match of qualifiers to advance to the next stage, they were stunned 2-1, a result that sparked street riots.
A staggering win bonus of HK$2 million, the highest for a match in recent years, has been promised to Hong Kong players for tonight's clash.