Football derbies are always heated affairs. For instance, when China’s national soccer team lost to Hong Kong in 1985 a riot broke out in Beijing (it was a decisive World Cup qualifying match).
The two teams locked horns again this month in another World Cup qualifier. As expected, it was a highly charged affair, although the former British colony came away with an unexpected result: a goalless draw.
Most Chinese fans have learned the hard way not to invest too much national pride in the fortunes of their football team. Yet more than 26,000 turned up at a Shenzhen stadium last Thursday (with Hongkongers allocated around 2,000 tickets) in the hope that China would end its Hong Kong jinx on the football pitch (see WiC278) .
The Chinese team had more than 70% of the ball possession and hit the woodwork four times. But it couldn’t find a way past Hong Kong’s goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai, who pulled off a string of stunning saves to deny most of the 41 shots on goal.
For Yapp it was a sweet moment. The 25 year-old was poised to become a professional footballer in mainland China in 2013. But a planned transfer to Guizhou Renhe was vetoed by the Chinese Football Association (CFA), which doesn’t allow ‘foreign’ goalkeepers. He was reduced to venting his frustration on social media. A photo of him holding a poster that read “I am Chinese not a foreigner” was widely shared among fans across the Hong Kong-China border.
Yapp has been back on social media in recent days – saying he was insulted in the last minutes of the match last Thursday. Posting a photo of the Chinese captain Zheng Zhi he alleged: “You are mad at not winning. You came up to me and called me a dog. Asian Footballer of the Year, you have good skills, but you fail in terms of sportsmanship!”
That soon had China’s netizens and their Hong Kong compatriots swapping another round of animal insults (see WiC136 for an earlier instance in which mainlanders compared Hongkongers to dogs in revenge for being slurred as locusts).
“Hong Kong parked the bus for 90 minutes and Yapp dived in extra time. Only dogs would do this,” one China fan wrote on his weibo. “But the team of locusts still can’t beat the underdogs,” came an online riposte from a Hongkonger.
Zheng has denied Yapp’s accusation. He told Sina Sports: “I just told him to get up on his feet as he had been lying on the pitch for too long.” This might have got lost in translation, according to the chief of Hong Kong’s football association, who suggested that the word “long” (jiu) sounds similar to “dog” (gou) in Mandarin. Yapp wasn’t convinced. “My Mandarin is not that bad,” He told reporters.
Hong Kong fans subsequently booed the Chinese national anthem this week in their fixture against Qatar. That could mean that the return match against China (in Hong Kong in November) is played behind closed doors. That’s because FIFA had warned Hongkongers that if they booed the Chinese national anthem again, the home leg would be played in an empty stadium.
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