Don't blame the ref, says Hong Kong hero Yapp after China 'goal' controversy
Kim Pan-gon's charges deal massive blow to 'Big Brother's' hopes of progressing to next round of World Cup soccer qualifiers
Hong Kong hero Yapp Hung-fai said “referee’s decisions are part of the game” after a controversial 'goal' that never was frustrated China in last night’s draw in World Cup qualifying.
China thought they had broken the deadlock – which had lasted since their stalemate in their first clash in Shenzhen in September – when an effort from Yu Dabao appeared to have crossed the line in the 76th minute before Yapp clawed it out.
But it was not given by the referee or his linesmen. With no goalline technology in Fifa games, China were dealt another massive blow to their hopes of reaching the next round of qualifying.
“Referee’s decisions are part of the game. If you can score and play with better quality, then you won't be affected by outside factors,” Yapp - who made a stunning point-blank save to deny Yu's initial effort - said.
Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-gon said: “I feel sorry for China if they feel it was the referee who made them draw the match.”
It may have been a goalless draw, but Hong Kong fans celebrated it like a World Cup final win.
A raucous 6,000-strong sea of red chanted "We are Hong Kong" throughout as their team frustrated the "Big Brother" from across the border for the second time in group C.
In truth, the draw did little to boost Hong Kong's hopes of reaching the next round as one of the best second-placed teams, but try finding anyone who cared about that - the four points dropped by China in two "local derbies" they expected to win comfortably have dealt Alain Perrin's team a massive blow - and probably cost China's French manager his job.
Hong Kong remain second in the group with 14 points, three ahead of China, who have one game in hand.
Hong Kong will have to beat Qatar, who have won all their games and have qualified for the next round, away in March to have any hope of becoming one of the four top second-placed teams who advance.
China are at home against the Maldives and Qatar as they try to finish on 17 points.
Kim was delighted with the effort of his players, but admitted the result hardly helped his own team's cause.
"It was an amazing night for the hard work the boys put in on the field. They made the fans and Hong Kong citizens feel proud," said the South Korean.
"I feel happy to get a point and two draws against a stronger rival, as we must respect that China are the better side.
"But my philosophy is not to give any goal to any team, and then we can get a minimum of a point. If we score, then it's three.
"This is just a small step forward and we must improve. Perhaps the coming Asian Cup qualifiers should be our target."
Goalkeeper Yapp had a stunning night, after his acrobatic saves had earlier frustrated the mainlanders in Shenzhen.
And like that game, Hong Kong had the woodwork to thank, China hitting the post and bar in the first half. But Hong Kong gave as good as they got, especially in a second half where China looked increasingly clueless and frustrated.
They might even have stolen the win late on as China's goalkeeper went up for a corner in a last desperate attack.
"We went out to get a result and we tried not to concede any goals. I think we succeeded tonight," said Yapp.
"Defence is important to avoid conceding goals and we followed the instructions of the coach to the letter, although we had luck on our side as they hit the woodwork a couple of times," he added.
Thankfully, there was only minimal booing heard for the China national anthem, fans likely refraining in fear of further punishment by Fifa. Some fans did try to make their presence felt by holding up signs saying "BOO".
Yapp's best save came on 76 minutes when he first stopped a point-blank effort from Yu then, when Yu's second attempt from the rebound hit a post, Yapp dove to spoon it out. Replays showed he might have been fortunate, but the referee ruled no goal.
Zhang Linpeng's reckless tackle on Jaimes McKee in the opening minutes set the stage for a frantic high-tempo game - and Zhang's Guangzhou Evergrande clubmate, Zou Zheng, was very lucky to escape punishment for what looked like an elbow on Paulinho.
The naturalised players, laughed at by their mainland counterparts as "hardly Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi" made terrific contributions to the result, with Paulinho a constant outlet for Hong Kong's besieged defenders. It was a far more even match than the game in Shenzhen, which China utterly dominated, but the visitors still had more chances.
Yang Xu's powerful header beat Yapp in the first half and the woodwork again saved Hong Kong - China hit the frame five times in Shenzhen
McKee had Hong Kong's best chance on the half-hour, hitting the crossbar with a header, before Huang Bowen hit a post for China with a low drive.
As the match wore on, China seemingly ran out of ideas as Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-gon's game plan worked to perfection.
It wasn't a win - but it certainly felt like it.