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The HKFA is hopeful fans will refrain from booing at the match between Hong Kong and Lebanon on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Impending National Anthem Law offers hope but HKFA admits it ‘can do little to stop’ more booing at Tuesday’s match

Hong Kong take on Lebanon in their last home game before government tables draft to Legislative Council

Officials will have their fingers crossed the national anthem saga is coming to an end as Hong Kong host Lebanon in the Asian Cup qualifiers on Tuesday night.

The match at Hong Kong Stadium will be the last home game for the representative team before the government tables a draft of the National Anthem Law to the Legislative Council early next year. Following approval from the Executive Council, the draft law would be sent to the council’s bills committee for scrutiny.

“We hope this could be the end of it as the situation should be under better control when the draft law becomes part of the local legislation,” said Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) vice-chairman Pui Kwan-kay.

“We know we can do little to stop it at this stage, but we hope the fans refrain from violating the proposed law once again.

“The regional soccer governing body [Asian Football Confederation] has already warned the HKFA any further breach of the rules on fans’ behaviour could be met with more severe punishment. If that really happens, it will be the Hong Kong team to suffer.”

Hong Kong will travel to Pyongyang for their last group match against North Korea in March next year. That result will decide which team qualifies along with Lebanon for the 2019 Asian Cup finals in United Arab Emirates, regardless of Tuesday’s result.

Last month, a group of home fans booed the national anthem when it was played before the qualification match against Malaysia at Hong Kong Stadium.

Fans boo the Chinese national anthem during a friendly between Hong Kong and Bahrain at Mong Kok Stadium. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

The AFC gave the association “a stern warning”, adding that a repeat would be “met with more severe punishment”, which could mean a large fine or the team having to play matches in an empty stadium.

Booing of the national anthem, reflecting an anti-China sentiment among the younger fans, started two years ago when Hong Kong kicked off their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, just a few months after the government used force to crack down on the Occupy Central campaign.

Hong Kong soccer fans jeer national anthem despite tough new mainland laws

Head coach Kim Pan-gon has selected a number of local players for his 23-member squad for the match, but it is likely only goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai and midfielders Tan Chun-lok and Wong Wai will have the chance of making the starting line-up.

The rest of the squad is expected to comprise mainland Chinese players who have served a two-year residency period or naturalised team members.

Goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai is one of the few local players with a genuine chance of selection. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Unbeaten group leaders Lebanon have already reached the finals with a game remaining. They have 10 points after thrashing North Korea 5-0 at home in their most recent match.

North Korea are second on eight points after defeating Malaysia 4-1 on Monday night, while Hong Kong sit third with five points.

We might start taking Hong Kong fans’ names to curb national anthem booing, FA director says

Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic has still brought his strongest squad to Hong Kong with the target of finishing the group stage with a prefect record. They beat Hong Kong 2-0 in the opening game in Beirut.

Captain Hassan Maatouk and midfielders Samir Ayass, Ali Hamam and Rabih Ataya, who all scored against North Korea, have come with the squad. Lebanon will play hosts to Malaysia in their last group match next March.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Nervous HKFA await end of booing saga by fans