Hong Kong battled China to a scoreless draw Thursday to stay one point clear of its closest pursuer in the Asian qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
China threw everything they got at Hong Kong and had four solid scoring chances, twice from skipper Zheng Zhi in the ninth and 44th minutes.
The first attempt was blocked and the second scraped the cross bar, the ball bouncing back into play.
Yu Hanchao had the Chinese ready to go in the early minutes when he swept past Hong Kong keeper Yapp Hung-fai only to sail into defender Jean Kilama.
In the 36th, Yu got as close as the goal post but could not break through a wall of Hong Hong defenders.
Hong Kong leads Group C with seven points on two wins and one draw, followed by Qatar with six after two wins and China with four points on one win and one draw.
About 20,000 fans packed Shenzhen’s Bao’an Stadium, mostly partisans of the home team which were favored to beat Hong Kong being 67 notches above the locals in the FIFA world ranking.
Hong Kong were coming off impressive wins against Bhutan and the Maldives which were marred by booing of the Chinese national anthem.
There was no such incident this time.
About 2,000 Hong Kong fans were on hand, chanting “we are Hong Kong”.
Many said they considered the draw a victory and praised the resilience of the Hong Kong players, especially keeper Yapp Hung-fai.
Hong Kong businessman Tsim Pui-chung had promised the team HK$300,000 (US$38,700) if they beat China.
The incentive is on top of a HK$100,000 bonus regardless of the result.
“It was a good result,” Tsim said. “I thought Hong Kong would lose by two goals.”
Hong Kong next plays Qatar on Tuesday at the Mong Kong Stadium. A return match with the mainlanders set for Nov. 17.
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