Racist issue mars Azkals win vs HK
HONG KONG—Friendly? Not so.
A scintillating victory by the Philippines in what was supposed to be a friendly match against Hong Kong took a controversial turn when the host country’s football officials were forced to confront reports of racist abuse during the match.
In what was easily one of the finest performance by the Azkals away from home, Neil Etheridge provided a quality performance between the posts, preserving James Younghusband’s first half goal in a 1-0 victory Tuesday night that was marred by an unruly home crowd at Mongkok Stadium here.
The South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday that Hong Kong fans at the game called their Filipino counterparts “slaves,” threw bottles at them and booed the Philippine national anthem.
The hostile crowd grew increasingly frustrated with every impressive save by Etheridge in a torrid final 20 minutes.
But ugly scenes marred the end of the match with the home crowd throwing debris at the Azkals and the Filipino gallery, which were made up mostly of women and children.
“This win is even more meaningful for us because of the large number of Filipinos working in Hong Kong,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “We dedicate this victory to them.”
Hong Kong Football Association spokesman Benny Chan said it will release an official report to the public and Fifa after it completes its investigation.
Philippine football officials said they were waiting for a report from their team before deciding whether to complain to Fifa.
The incident comes as Fifa decided last week to treat racist abuse more seriously by toughening up punishments.
Both teams were using the match to prepare for more important battles ahead with Hong Kong sharpening up for their Asian Cup Qualifying match in October and the Philippines toughening for the AFC Challenge Cup next year.
But the match was played at a fast pace with both teams pressing high, hoping to win the ball early and in dangerous areas. The Azkals carved out chances on the counter-attack and it was a swift move out from the backline that led to Stephan Schrock making a cross that the Hong Kong backline failed to clear.
Younghusband towered over his defender and directed his header beyond the arms of Hong Kong goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai for his eighth international goal.
Hong Kong was handed a lifeline when star striker Chan Siu Ki was adjudged to have been fouled by Juani Guirado inside the penalty box in the 66th minute. But Etheridge proved equal to the spotkick, saving with his left foot and showing quick reactions to clear the rebound.
Etheridge had three more sensational close-range stops as the Azkals coped with the pressure by the home side.
“It was a lucky victory but we have to take it as it is. We did not have enough time to prepare and I can only laud Neil Etheridge for his performance,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss. “Slowly but surely, the team is understanding the concept of pressing and that is what we are trying to do even if we dont have our Europe-based players.” With a report from the Associated Press
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