Saturday 24 October 2009

Kuwait Deny South China Berth in AFC Cup Final

In front of a 37,000-strong Hong Kong crowd on Wednesday 21 October, Kuwait managed to hold off pressure from South China and their fans, winning 1-0 in the semi-final second leg, and overall winning 3-1 on aggregate after last week's 2-1 win in Kuwait.

Compared with their quarter-final second leg, South China's semi-final second leg match was a complete contrast with the huge home fan support, match development and tactics, and of course the refereeing.

In HKRef’s view, there was little Optimum Officiating displayed by the match officials (further details to follow).

Kuwait break hearts of Hong Kong supporters
Caroliners' goal ruled offside as they miss place in final

Chan Kin-wa
Oct 22, 2009

South China may have lost the match last night - and the chance to reach the final of the Asian Football Confederation Cup - but Hong Kong soccer ended the night as the winner.

In front of a packed crowd of 37,400 passionate supporters at Hong Kong Stadium, the Caroliners were beaten 1-0 by visiting Kuwait Sports Club in the semi-final second leg - losing 3-1 on aggregate after last week's 2-1 defeat in the away leg.

Ismail al-Ajmi scored the goal that broke the hearts of the South China fans when he beat three Caroliners players on the left and fired a low drive that gave goalkeeper Zhang Chunhui little chance.

The match was marred earlier by some ugly scenes when the linesman ruled that Li Haiqiang's goal in the 64th minute was offside.

South China fans began throwing bottles onto the field and the reserve stand of Kuwait Sports Club, forcing the visitors' officials and players to run onto the pitch.

"One of our officials was hit by a soft drink bottle, but we won't lodge any complaint to the AFC as we understand the feeling of the home fans," said Mohamad Ali, coach of Kuwait Sports Club.

"We have watched many South China match videos and they played their best match so far in the tournament."

The domestic champions had failed at the last hurdle in their dream of becoming the first team from Hong Kong to reach the Asian Champions League; a place in the league will be awarded to the two finalists of the tournament.

However, despite the defeat, Brian Leung Hung-tak, chairman of Hong Kong Football Association, said he was confident that Hong Kong could build on the momentum brought by the zealous fans.

"The atmosphere was just wonderful when you saw thousands of fans cheer for the home side; it hasn't happened for a long time in domestic football.," he said.

"Yes, South China lost the match and the result was disappointing, but we have gained a lot. As you can see, the fans still support Hong Kong football very much. They are willing to spend their time and money as long as our teams can achieve good results."

At least 26,500 tickets were sold the night before the match, and another 4,000 tickets were sold yesterday morning. By 6.45pm, a red flag showing a full house was on display at the ground; not all 40,000 tickets were sold for security reasons.

The attendance was the biggest for a competitive match in Hong Kong - not including exhibition games with overseas teams. The previous record had been for a First Division title play-off between South China and Instant Dict, watched by some 31,100 fans in 1996.

Leung said he personally sold the last two tickets to a fan at the box office and it was at this time that he felt Hong Kong football still had a future. "I was really moved," he said. "We have to work hard from here and I call on the clubs, government and the community to join us for the betterment of Hong Kong football."

Kwok Ka-ming, a former Hong Kong soccer star who is now the international director of the Football Association, said many fans still supported Hong Kong soccer.

"Any domestic team who can reach the final stages of a regional tournament can bring the crowds in," Kwok said. "Many fans here may not be supporters of South China, but still came hoping to watch a Hong Kong side beat an overseas team."

South China coach Kim Pan-gon admitted his charges would need to improve their skills if they wanted to play at the highest level in the region.

"Physically we are almost there, but we must improve on our skills," the South Korean coach said. "This cannot be done only at club level, but by starting at junior levels, too."

Tuesday 20 October 2009

South China on Verge of History

On 21 October Wednesday evening at 8pm at Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong’s oldest football club South China will attempt to become the first Hong Kong side to reach the final of the AFC Cup tournament.

To do so, South China will have to beat Kuwait SC 1-0, or if they concede goals a winning margin of at least two goals will be required. The first leg of the AFC Cup 2009 semi-final saw Kuwait SC win 2-1 against South China.

If South China are successful, they will also have the opportunity to compete in the play-offs for the 2010 AFC Champions League. South China did enough to get past Neftchi (Uzbekistan) in the AFC Cup 2009 quarter-finals.

The only other Hong Kong team to have reached the same position of the AFC Cup is Sun Hei, which reached the 2005 semi-finals before losing 6-2 on aggregate to Lebanon’s Nejmeh.

The match officials for the South China (Hong Kong) vs Kuwait SC (Kuwait) match at Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong, 21 October, 20:00 are:
Match Commissioner: Rivilla Nazareno (Philippines)
Referee Assessor: D’costa Anthony John (India)
Referee: Mohammad Omar Al Saeedi (Oman)
Assistant Referee 1: Ahmad Nasser Bahrooz (UAE)
Assistant Referee 2: Mohammad Abdulla Jassim (UAE)
Fourth Official: Fareed Al Marzouqi (UAE)

Interestingly, referees from China make up the majority of the match officials for the other AFC Cup 2009 semi-final second leg:
Al Karamah (Syria) vs Becamex Binh Duong (Vietnam)
Khaled Ibn Al Waleed Staduim, Homs, 21 October, 19:30.

Match Commissioner: Mazen Ramadan (Lebanon)
Referee Assessor: Ali Bujsaim (UAE)

Referee: Tan Hai (China)

Assistant Referee 1: Tuo Wei Ming (China)

Assistant Referee 2: Huo Jige (China)

Fourth Official: Zhao Liang (China)

FA Charges Alex Ferguson Over Referee Remarks

The Football Association has deservedly charged Sir Alex Ferguson with improper conduct regarding his abuse of referee Alan Wiley.

Ferguson has already made a half-hearted attempt at a public apology but, considering the FA’s decision to charge him, this "apology" is likely to be viewed as insincere, disingenuous and contemptuous.

Sunderland’s Freak Goal Illegal and Wrongly Allowed

There is a code of conduct that recommends referees be supportive of other referees. This referees’ code is usually followed because there is a basic understanding and perhaps empathy amongst referees that “the only opinion that counts is the match referee’s opinion”. The person in that specific time and place is the only person capable of making a decision at that specific time and place. Simple as that.

However, this position of support for referees should not be “blindly and passionately followed” because within reason there are always limits. One limit is of course not being properly aware of the Laws of the Game. Referees, and especially professional referees, are expected to know the Laws of the Game inside out and to apply them consistently when necessary.

Mike Jones, the premiership referee who allowed the goal that was clearly caused by outside interference, made an error, made a mistake, and was wrong. In HKRef’s earlier post, the only reasonable support given to Mike Jones was to suggest that he did not have a clear view of the outside interference. However, considering the fact that Mike Jones consulted with his Assistant Referee (plus the fact that he has open communication with all his match officials), the decision to allow the goal to stand is even more bewildering.

Even ex-professional referees from the Premier League (i.e. Dermot Gallagher, Graham Poll, Jeff Winter) have gone on record to say that Mike Jones made a huge mistake. There can be no “closing ranks” or any hiding from the fact that the referee Mike Jones made an extraordinary error in a basic law of the game.

Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that managers (as well as football reporters, pundits, players, fans and almost everyone else interested in football) have revealed their ignorance of the Laws of the Game. Referees have long known about this shortcoming in non-referees!
Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez said: "These things happen. It's a very technical question but it has to be a goal."
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce revealed his contempt and lack of respect to referees by saying:If anyone knew that rule, that it should have been a drop ball, then you are one saddo. I didn’t know.”

The real “saddo” here is Steve Bruce and others like him who believe “swotting up” on the Laws of the Game somehow makes you a “lesser human being”. There is nothing wrong, and in fact there is great benefit, in being thoroughly knowledgeable about your interest, hobby, passion or profession (whatever it may be). But there is definitely something wrong, and nothing to be proud about, in being an ignoramus like Steve Bruce.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Sunderland Goal Should Have Been Disallowed Due to “Outside Interference”

During the Sunderland v Liverpool premiership match on 17 October 2009, the only goal scored in that match should not have been allowed, according to the Laws of the Game. In the 5’, Sunderland striker Darren Bent’s shot appeared to be covered by Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina but then it deflected off a red beach ball and went in the goal. The referee indicated a goal.

[Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina can only watch as the ball is deflected off the red beach ball and in to his goal]

The real shocker is just how many people (managers, players, commentators, football reporters) revealed their lack of knowledge of the Laws of the Game. During the match, there were no significant protests (largely because players most likely do not have complete knowledge of the Laws). Commentators and sports reporters did not comment whether the goal should have been disallowed. And after the match, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is reported to have said: “It's just one of those things” although, to Sunderland manager Steve Bruce’s credit, he did query whether the goal was legal. Understandably, Bruce and the Sunderland players were happy to be awarded the goal and did not query the referee’s decision during the match.

Ultimately, it is in the opinion of the referee (Mike Jones) during the match that decides whether the goal is allowed or not. Only Mike Jones can explain why, in his opinion, the goal was legal. Looking at the replays, it appears the referee’s view may have been blocked by Liverpool defender Glen Johnson (so let’s wait and see if there will be an explanation). HKRef's guess is that referee Mike Jones will say that, from his angle, he thought Glen Johnson deflected the shot in to his own goal. Meanwhile, the offending red beach ball, which was located exactly 6 yards from the goal line, was knocked off the pitch during the match ball's deflection so the referee probably did not notice that it was an “outside interference” prior to the goal.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Optimum Officiating: AFC Cup 2009 QF 2nd Leg part 6

2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 6 of 6


The final minutes of this match are crucial and the referee works hard and does a fantastic job to keep up with play.

At 1:50, the ball goes out for a South China goal kick. South China captain (red #11) ties his bootlaces. South China keeper laughs and shares the joke. Referee signals for them to “get on with it”.

At 3:33, Referee blows whistle and signals the end of the match.

The referee team officiated the match intelligently and effectively.

Optimum Officiating: AFC Cup 2009 QF 2nd Leg part 5

2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 5 of 6


At 0:02, Neftchi player (yellow #19) fouls South China player (red #22). Referee remains calm and proactive.

At 1:23, South China captain (red #11) fouls Neftchi player (#22). Referee quickly covers ground to be present to manage the situation. South China captain is delaying restart, Netfchi player tries to place ball closer to goal, and Referee is keeping everything under control. The AR is helping by signaling to the 2-man wall not to encroach.

At 2:23, Neftchi player (yellow #29) fouls South China player (red #26). Good support by the AR, who signals to and then tells the referee that it was a tactical foul deserving a caution.

At 3:51, Referee signals to the 4th official to give 5 minutes of additional time. Additional time is allowed for 5 things: substitutions; assessment of injury to players; removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment; wasting time: and any other cause.

Referees guidelines recommend that 30 seconds by allowed for every goal or substitution, and 1 or 2 minutes be added for injuries and/or time-wasting, if they have occurred. Considering there were 4 substitutions and lots of time-wasting, giving 5 minutes of additional time seems correct and fair.

At 5:40, the 4th official announces there will be 5 minutes of additional time.

At 6:30, South China win a throw-in, and the Referee takes proactive steps to limit any delay in the restart.

Optimum Officiating: AFC Cup 2009 QF 2nd Leg part 4

2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 4 of 6


At 2:30, South China player (red #22) fouls Neftchi player (yellow #26). Good referee teamwork.

At 4:37, Referee plays advantage and allows South China (red) to carry on attacking. This is Optimal Officiating because a) playing advantage allows the game to flow and remain exciting, and b) prevents South China from using the incident as a means to delay restart.

At 4:55, South China player (red #26) is exhausted because of the advantage just applied by the Referee. The Referee clearly tells the player not to waste time. Then, South China captain (red #11) attempts to influence the Referee and complicate the situation (perhaps to cause more delay?) by saying that there should be a caution for the foul incident at 4:37. This is typical of the kind of pressure and bias players put on Referees. The Referee clearly tells the captain "No". The tackle by the Neftchi player was not reckless and it did not disrupt South China’s attacking move.

At 5:50, another South China player (red #2) goes down with cramp. Neftchi player (yellow #26) and Neftchi captain (yellow #23) reminds the Referee about South China’s delaying tactics. The Referee reassures them that he is keeping a close eye on this and that there will added time. Neftchi captain gives referee the “thumbs up”.

At 6:20, Referee signals for substitution (Neftchi)
At 6:40, Referee has to again manage the delaying tactics of South China. This time, South China are slow to restart play with a throw-in. Neftchi players (like captain yellow #23) are beginning to get irritated. The Referee remains calm.

At 7:30, South China player (red #26) is fouled. Referee’s body language quickly tells him to “get up and get on with it”. Red #26 knows this, and shares a cheeky smile/joke with the referee.

At 8:08, South China player wins ball fairly from Neftchi player. Neftchi player wants a foul. Referee correctly ignores him.

Optimum Officiating: AFC Cup 2009 QF 2nd Leg part 3

2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 3 of 6


At 0:01, Neftchi player (yellow #26) fouls South China player (red #30).

At 1:30, Neftchi player (yellow #26) is fouled by a South China player. The funny thing is that another South China player (red #30) believes he was fouled (by being pushed in the back). In fact, it was his own team-mate who pushed him!

At 2:15, Referee waves away a penalty appeal. No foul was committed.
At 2:27, Referee makes eye contact with the South China player to re-confirm that there was no foul, and the red shirt accepts this message.

At 3:33, Referee signals for substitutions (South China and Neftchi).

At 5:53, Neftchi (yellow) counter-attacked and had a great chance to score, but were denied by the South China keeper.

At 7:57, Referee signals a goal kick. He is proactive and warns the South China keeper not to delay.

At 8:30, South China player (red #2) fouls Neftchi player (yellow #20). The Referee is quick and decisive but gets the restart position slightly wrong.

At 9:09, Neftchi player (yellow #26) deliberately handles the ball. The Referee is quick to react and correctly cautions him. Yellow #26 also appeared to be offside. As the Referee stops to write in his notebook, his positioning is effective and it clearly tells the South China keeper to be ready for restart.

Optimum Officiating: AFC Cup 2009 QF 2nd Leg part 2

2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 2 of 6


At 00:50, South China player (red #21) falls to the ground. The Neftchi player (yellow #6) did not foul his opponent, and in fact withdrew his right leg to avoid any follow-through. The Referee deals with the theatrics and delaying tactics with a friendly gesture: he offers his hand to the red shirt.

At 2:35, Referee awards a free kick to Neftchi. However, not sure why this is an indirect free kick, since there was contact between the players as they challenged for the ball.

At 4:38, Referee signals for substitution (South China).

At 6:38, Referee signals for South China corner. Neftchi captain (yellow #23) is concerned about time-wasting, but the referee reassures him that time will be added on.

At 7:19, Referee has signaled a South China corner and is being proactive. The referee sends a broadcast message for South China not to delay restart.

At 8:10, Referee spots a South China player fall to the ground. It is another delay tactic by South China. Again, the referee reassures the Neftchi captain (yellow #23) that he is aware of the time.

Optimum Officiating: AFC Cup 2009 QF 2nd Leg part 1

2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 1 of 6


At 1:45, South China player (red #21) makes a tactical foul. By the reaction of the South China players (there are 4 red shirts crowding the ball), it is obvious that the intention is to delay restart. The Referee has the option to caution player #21, but instead opts to send a warning to the player. The Referee’s body language clearly says: “Any more, and it’s a caution”.
It actually takes 1 minute from the foul until the free kick restart.

At 3:45, foul.

At 7:14, Referee does a little shimmy (sidestep) to avoid getting in the way of play.
At 7:18, Referee spots an infringement.

At 8:50, Referee signals for a corner to South China. Referee takes proactive steps to guide the South China captain (red #11) to the corner and not to delay restart. Red #11 acknowledges this by patting the Referee’s butt!

At 9:26, Referee again signals for a corner to South China and again takes proactive steps.
At 9:50, Referee gives a clear broadcast message for players to refrain from holding and to behave.

Optimum Officiating: AFC Cup 2009 QF 2nd Leg

The referee team officiated the match between Hong Kong’s South China and Uzbekistan’s Neftchi intelligently and effectively.

During the half-time break, referees should use their time wisely by considering the match situation and possible team tactics. The half-time score is: South China (red) 1 : 0 Neftchi (yellow); and the aggregate score is 5:5.

Match situation. South China (red) are one goal up, and simply need to protect their lead in the second half to win the quarter-final tie against Neftchi (yellow). Neftchi need only to draw the game in order to win the quarter-final tie.

The experienced match officials understand that the home team’s strategy is to “run down the clock”. If the referee is not careful, tensions and ill-feelings could potentially escalate and boil over as one team seeks to delay, and the other team seeks to play.

The following related posts are 6 videoclips of the second half of the 2nd Leg Quarter Final tie, with punctuated remarks. The videoclips show that the referee’s management of this tension-filled second half is intelligent and effective.

2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 1 of 6
2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 2 of 6
2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 3 of 6
2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 4 of 6
2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 5 of 6
2009 09 30 South China v Neftchi AFC Cup 2009 6 of 6

HKRef welcomes comments and remarks about refereeing in particular, and football in general.

Sunday 11 October 2009

Alex Ferguson Wrong About Wiley And Referees

Sir Alex Ferguson's specific comments on Alan Wiley is seen by many as a general slur on the refereeing community. Referees up and down England, left and right across the world (including here in Hong Kong!) would like to see the English FA impose a significant punishment on Ferguson.

Ferguson questioned referee Alan Wiley's fitness and the evidence for Alan Wiley's performance does not support Ferguson's biased opinion (see graphic). The ProZone analysis of Alan Wiley's match performance reveal the referee covered more ground than all but seven players during the Manchester Utd v Sunderland match on 3 October 2009. Additional statistics show Wiley also sprinted when needed, was on average about 17 meters away from the ball, and was on average about 15 meters from fouls.

This evidence clearly shows that Alex Ferguson is wrong to criticize Alan Wiley's fitness, and his overall performance as a premiership referee.

Ferguson must explain his remarks to the English FA by 13 October 2009.

Plain ridiculous (Hong Kong Standard)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson has been asked by the English FA to explain his controversial comments about referee Alan Wiley while Blackburn's Sam Allardyce has escaped sanction over his remarks about Peter Walton.

Ferguson questioned Wiley's fitness after United's 2-2 draw with Sunderland, claiming the 49-year-old struggled to keep up with the pace of the match at Old Trafford.

Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher felt the comments were unfair to all referees.

"I have never known a manager to say a referee wasn't fit enough. It's the most ridiculous comment I have ever heard," Gallagher said.

"The referees are fit for purpose. They are training four, five, six times a week ... to an intensity which 10 years ago I would never have believed."


Monday 5 October 2009

Alex Ferguson Verbally Abuses Premiership Referee Alan Wiley

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson accused referee Alan Wiley of being physically unfit, and could be charged by the FA with improper conduct.

Following Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Sunderland on Saturday 3 October 2009, Ferguson claimed that Wiley took “at least 30 seconds every time he booked a player” because he needed a rest.

Referees, referee assessors and reasonable independent observers watching the match can observe for themselves that Wiley had a very good game. For instance, Wiley had presence, anticipated play well, kept close to the action, correctly applied advantage (Two examples: as Darren Fletcher slid and lunged at Sunderland’s Andy Reid, which soon created Sunderland’s second goal; and as Johnny Evans slid and fouled Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson, which created a good attacking opportunity), and issued six justifiable cautions (two being for Sunderland's Kieran Richardson, who was sent off for a second yellow card).

[Alan Wiley is a fit, experienced and highly capable referee]

Even BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson and other commentators said referee Alan Riley “had a good game”. However whether comments about referees are good or bad, referees understandably do not to take opinions from managers, players, fans and football commentators seriously. This is because, in general, these 'critics' do not have a complete understanding of refereeing and the Laws of the Game (see future post titled Why Referees Close Ranks).

There is no evidence that Alan Wiley is unfit or unable to perform his duties as a referee. Alex Ferguson is wrong to attack Alan Wiley and should be charged with improper conduct. A public apology would not go amiss either.

Ferguson queries referee fitness (BBC Sport)
Man Utd 2-2 Sunderland (BBC Sport)
FA Charge Liverpool's No 1 and No 2 with Improper Conduct
English FA Condemns Referee Intimidation

Friday 2 October 2009

Fine-Tuning Penalty Kicks for Europa League Referees

Penalty kicks during the second round Europa League matches yesterday (1 October 2009) revealed how the Extra Assistant Referee (EAR) can complicate positioning matters. In this videoclip between Valencia and Genoa, the Referee awards a penalty kick to Genoa when the score is 2-1. Take a look at where the Referee and the EAR are positioned.

Question 1: Who saw the foul and did the EAR play a part?

Question 2: Why is the Referee standing in a different position to the standard position?

[From the videoclip, this is the positioning of the match officials during the penalty kick.]

The presence of the EAR appears to have shifted the R to stand on the right side of the goal during the penalty kick. In HKRef's opinion, this is not Optimum Officiating.

HKRef’s suggestion. For penalty kicks, an EAR standing on the goal line is redundant because the AR is already responsible for ensuring that the goalkeeper remains on the goal line before the ball is kicked, and that the ball crosses the goal line between the posts and under the crossbar. An EAR on the goal line is therefore a waste of an extra pair of eyes and a waste of “presence”.

What would be better is for the Referee to use the EAR to help keep an eye on other players and to help prevent them from running in to the penalty area before the ball is kicked. The presence of another match official near the 18 yard line can help deter players from entering the penalty area prematurely during penalty kicks.

[HKRef's suggestion for Optimum Officiating.]

Does anyone else have other suggestions?

Thursday 1 October 2009

South China Secure Semi-Final Slot

Hong Kong’s South China are through to the semi-finals of the 2009 AFC Cup with a comprehensive 1-0 win in the second-leg of their quarter-final tie against Uzbekistan's Neftchi. In last night’s return leg at Hong Kong Stadium, the Hong Kong Division One Champions overturned their AFC Cup first-leg 5-4 deficit in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and ultimately won the tie by the away goals rule.

The all-important goal by Brazilian striker Leandro Silva came in the second minute of the first half. There were 4 yellow cards in total, and the referee team officiated the match intelligently and effectively (further details to follow).

South China (HKG) 1-0 Neftchi (UZB). Agg 5-5.

Caroliners edge into AFC Cup semis (SCMP; subscription required)
Chan Kin-wa and Agence France-Presse
Oct 01, 2009
South China moved a step closer to completing their AFC Cup mission after sneaking past Neftchi of Uzbekistan at Hong Kong Stadium last night.

A slender 1-0 victory was good enough to take them through to the semi-finals, thanks to the away goal rule after they banged in four goals in the first leg when they lost 5-4 to the Uzbekistanis two weeks ago.

Brazilian forward Leandro Silva scored the only goal in front of a 20,000 crowd, mostly in red shirts in support of the home team, after heading home a Leung Kin-pong's cross in the second minute. But the Caroliners, who have set their sights on reaching the final in order to represent Hong Kong in the AFC Champions League next year, also had goalkeeper Zhang Chunhui to thank.

Two excellent saves from the keeper in the second half, including a one-on-one situation against Neftchi striker Alisher Halikov in the 70th minute, kept their hopes alive. Zhang also punched away a free kick from Iqboljon Akramov before any Neftchi players could reach it from close range seven minutes later.

"I want to buy the goalkeeper a dinner," said South China coach Kim Pan-gon. "He made two important saves that has helped us through."

South China received bad news the night before the match when forward Tales Schutz was banned for three matches by the Asian Football Confederation which meant he was not available for the encounter.

Coach Kim said: "We played as a team and it proved tonight that other players could come in and do a good job in the absence of others. I don't think [the loss of Schutz] will affect us too much."

South China convenor Steven Lo Kit-sing thanked the 20,000 fans who braved the bad weather to support them, although the rain stopped just before the start of the match.

"I told the players before the start they could not afford losing the hearts of the fans," he said.

"And the players did not let me down and did not let the fans down. I know many of them are not South China fans but just came here to support Hong Kong football. And their presence means Hong Kong football still has a future."