Hong Kong face Guangdong in Interport Cup as fans brace for more mainland rivalry
Hong Kong Football Association official says the annual match is popular with supporters on both sides of the border
The heated rivalry between the city and the mainland will fire up again as Hong Kong take on neighbours Guangdong in the annual Interport Cup on Thursday.
Following two thrilling goalless draws between Hong Kong and China in the recent World Cup qualifiers, any encounter between the two border rivals have sparked interest with fans.
The two-leg competition kicks off with Hong Kong’s home match at Mong Kok Stadium before the teams travel to Guangzhou for the return leg on Sunday.
Vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association, Pui Kwan-kay, said the annual tournament had been given more attention because of the World Cup qualifiers, but he doesn’t expect the same hostile environment when Hong Kong played hosts to China in November.
“Most of the fans are rational and they only want to enjoy a good international match,” said Pui. “The Interport Cup is no exception as it’s always a tough battle for both sides. Hong Kong would need to play at their best if they want to take the advantage in the two-leg tournament.”
About 300 seats have been allocated for the visiting fans in the northern stand, but the FAdoesn’t expect any confrontation between home crowds and the visiting fans.
Guangdong will be headed by diminutive midfielder Chen Zhizhao, who just moved from Beijing Guo’an to Guangzhou R&F at a transfer fee of 25 million yuan (HK$30 million).
Although Chen will be making his debut in the Interport Cup, the 26-year-old is no stranger to home fans as Chen played for First Division side Citizen in Hong Kong a couple of the seasons ago.
Another player, Tang Dechao, also played in Hong Kong with Sunray Cave a decade ago.
“Hong Kong soccer has been making great progress and it will be not easy for us,” said the defender. “But we have spent more than a month of training to prepare for this match and are confident of a good performance.”
Hong Kong have rested most of their international players, who played in the World Cup qualifiers, giving the opportunity for up-and-coming players to stand up and be counted.
“This is a great opportunity for us and we have to prove to the selectors we can take up the baton,” said 19-year-old midfielder Tan Chun-lok, who twice came off as a substitute in the World Cup qualifiers.
“Guangdong players are very tough but we are not afraid of them. We can also be tough when necessary,” he said.
Forward Wong Wei suffered a broken leg in the tournament last year after a tough tackle from the visitors’ Lu Lin. Wong had to rest for more than six months before playing again this season.