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WC qualifiers: Hong Kong dents China's soccer dream

November 17, 2015 23:53 IST
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China's players

IMAGE: China's players, left, react as Hong Kong's players celebrate after drawing in their World Cup qualifying match. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Hong Kong held China to a nil-nil draw in a World Cup qualifying soccer match on Tuesday played amid lingering political tensions between the two sides after last year's massive pro-democracy protests in the financial hub.

Hong Kong, footballing minnows ranked 145 by FIFA, had been expected to struggle against China which is ranked 84, but gave a gutsy display that could put into jeopardy China's hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia.

Relations between Hong Kong and China have worsened since last year's nearly three-month long democracy protests, when tens of thousands of activists blocked major roads in a bid to pressure Beijing to allow full democracy in the city.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the pledge that Beijing allow wide-ranging autonomies -- a promise that some in the city feel has been eroded as China's Communist leaders squeeze the city's freedoms.

Despite appeals from officials for the match not to become politicised, hundreds of Hong Kong fans in the stadium booed during the playing of China's national anthem and held up defiant banners.

"Hong Kong is not China," read one message written on six sheets of white paper in the stands, as thousands of other home fans waved red banners and chanted: "We are Hong Kong".

Hong Kong's goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai kept the game goalless amid a Chinese onslaught, a result that China's manager acknowsledged would now make it a struggle for China to qualify for Russia.

China have now to win its remaining two games against the Maldives and group leaders Qatar to progress to the third Asian qualifying round, with Hong Kong too in contention.

After the match, the mood was one of euphoria on the streets of Hong Kong, with some saying the result showed Hong Kong could still defy the odds and hold its own.

Cahill bags hat-trick as Australia thump Bangladesh 4-0

Tim Cahill

IMAGE: Australia's Tim Cahill, left, is congratulated after scoring a goal during their World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh in Dhaka. Photograph: Ashikur Rahman/Reuters

Tim Cahill scored his first international hat-trick in over a decade as Australia crushed Bangladesh 4-0 in their 2018 World Cup qualifier in Dhaka.

Already Australia's all-time leading scorer with 42 goals before Tuesday's Asian Group B clash, the evergreen Cahill took his career tally to 45 with three first-half strikes.

The Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak also found the net as the reigning Asian champions cruised to 4-0 lead by halftime then took their foot off the gas against a Bangladesh team ranked 120 places below them.

The Australian coach Ange Postecoglou said his team had not performed at their best but there were some extenuating circumstances because of security-related issues in the lead-up to the match.

Last month, Australia's world champion cricket team postponed their tour of Bangladesh after the Australian government advised them to stay at home because of potential militant attacks.

Second half goals ease Nigeria past brave Swaziland

Goals from Moses Simon and Efe Ambrose eased Nigeria into the final pool stages of African World Cup qualifying after they defeated brave Swaziland 2-0 in Port Harcourt.

Swaziland's underdogs had held Nigeria to a goalless draw in the first leg in Lobamba last Friday and it took into the second half of the return game for the west African powerhouse to finally breach their defence.

Ghent forward Simon scored from a free-kick six minutes after the break, before Celtic defender Ambrose turned the ball home from another set-piece with four minutes remaining to seal the tie.

Swaziland finished the game with 10 men when Phumlani Dlamini received his second booking in the closing stages.

Twenty African sides, split into five groups, will compete in the decisive pool stages of the World Cup qualifiers starting late next year, with the top team in each group guaranteed a place in the finals in Russia.

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