Hong Kong fans warned over China grudge match

Hong Kong fans were Wednesday urged to respect “fair play” in their politically charged World Cup qualifier against China, which follows a rise in tensions and coincides with a key war anniversary.

The match is attracting attention among a busy fixture list  Thursday, when Japan will look for their first win under coach Vahid Halilhodzic and a mutinous Australia take on Bangladesh.

Hong Kong’s supporters will Thursday make the short trip across the mainland Chinese border to Shenzhen, with officials fearing more booing of the national anthem which they share with China.

Last year’s “Umbrella Movement” mass pro-democracy protests pointed to a souring of attitudes in the semi-autonomous territory towards the central government in Beijing.

Hong Kong fans have been rapped by FIFA for booing the anthem, “March of the Volunteers”, during home games earlier this year.

Their supporters have also hit out at their allocation of just 2,200 tickets out of 27,000 sold for Thursday’s game, Hong Kong media reported.

The Hong Kong Football Association has called “for local fans to respect fair play in all World Cup qualifying matches”, an official told AFP.

He added: “Respect for the principles of fair play should apply to every match.”

National feeling will run high on both sides as the game coincides with the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

“Match day happens to be the 70th anniversary of the victory over Japan in the second world war,” said HKFA chairman Brian Leung, according to the South China Morning Post.

“There will also be an army parade in Beijing and other commemorative celebrations all over the country. The Chinese government won’t allow any trouble.”

– Aussie boycott –

Elsewhere Japan will expect to end their poor start under Halilhodzic when they take on Cambodia, ranked 180th in the world, in Saitama.

Halilhodzic has left little to chance by recalling European-based stars Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa for Thursday’s game and for next Tuesday’s clash against Afghanistan in Tehran.

“It is the first time in my life I have gone four matches without a win. I love winning and I am not satisfied that we have not won but I am not sad either,” said the Bosnian coach.

Group D shock leaders Guam, who opened Asia’s second round of qualifying by stunning India and Turkmenistan, face a sterner test when they take on mighty Iran in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.

The Pacific islanders lost 19-0 when they last met Iran in a competitive game 15 years ago, but coach Gary White is eager to see how his side matches up against the four-time World Cup finalists.

“We know the size of the challenge we are faced with, up against a team that has won several Asian Cups and which has been a regular qualifier for World Cups,” said the Englishman.

“That’s the position that we want to put ourselves in, that’s where we want to be, and with the full support of everyone at the Guam FA we are working towards that common goal.”

Australia’s preparations have been rocked by a pay dispute which prompted players to boycott promotional appearances ahead of their game in Perth.

But the Asian champions should still make short work of Bangladesh as they look to take charge of Group B.

Elsewhere minnows East Timor and Bhutan travel to Saudi Arabia and Qatar respectively, and 2002 semi-finalists South Korea host Laos.

The second round of Asian qualifying, which finishes in March, features 39 teams and also doubles as a route to the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.