Azkals endure hostile crowd, edge HK side

Olmin Leyba - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - From the playing of the Philippine national anthem up to the final whistle, the visiting Azkals heard only boos from a hostile Hong Kong crowd.

Despite the hostility, the Philippine Azkals managed to score a rare 1-0 win over the hosts last Tuesday night in an international friendly that turned unfriendly after locals, according to social media chatter, subjected the Philippine team and their Filipino fans to racial and physical abuse at the Mong Kok Stadium.

James Younghusband headed in the game-winner while Neil Etheridge put up a superb goalkeeping effort as the Azkals emerged victorious over Hong Kong for the first time ever.

The Philippines had lost its first five meetings with Hong Kong, then settled for a 3-3 draw the last time they faced off in the 2011 Long Teng Cup.

Shortly after the match, witnesses peppered social media with reports claiming that some Hong Kong supporters threw mineral water bottles at women and children in the stands as well as the Azkals, while some reportedly branded the Philippines as a “nation of slaves.”

“They threw trash at us and the players, shouted obscenities at the Filipino crowd that was mostly women and youngsters, called us slaves,” Ida Torres, who was at the venue, posted on Twitter.

An expat in the crowd expressed disgust over the “ill treatment” Filipinos got in a supposedly friendly sports competition.

“At the end of the game, there were ugly scenes when the Philippine side tried to celebrate with their fans and were subjected to such abuse – verbal, gestures and physical – as they were pelted with bottles and other objects,” an Englishman interviewed by the South China Morning Post said.

“Then I was even more disgusted to hear some local guys shouting to the group of Philippine men, women and children, who were happily celebrating, that they were ‘all just slaves’... and making obscene gestures at them,” the expat added.

Some of the Hong Kong fans, according to witnesses, were already showing rude behavior while the “Lupang Hinirang” was being played prior to kickoff.

“From the national anthem, they were already booing us. Was crying while singing coz I was so proud to be holding our flag,” Torres posted on Twitter.

One fan suggested there was still a lot of ill-feeling between Hong Kong and the Philippines because of the 2010 hostage crisis in Luneta. Eight Hong Kong residents were killed when a sacked Manila policemen hijacked their bus.

Since the alleged racism and physical abuse happened during a FIFA match, concerned football bodies are bound to act accordingly.

“I wasn’t there so I’m waiting for the official report from the head of delegation, which is team manager Dan Palami. Then we will act on the basis of that report,” Philippine Football Federation general-secretary Ed Gastanes told The STAR yesterday.

The incident is expected to reach the International Football Federation (FIFA) and the Asian Football Federation (AFC), which have both adopted regulations that fairly cover such situations.

FIFA, in fact, recently adopted tough measures to fight racism, hoping to make it prohibitively costly for fans and teams alike by slapping harsher penalties on offenders.

The “anti-Filipino” incident notwithstanding, the Azkals and their fans took pride in the result of the controversial friendly.

Younghusband pounced on a defensive error by Hong Kong captain Chan Wai Ho, outjumping his markers and heading the ball towards the goal in the 33rd minute for a 1-0 lead that the Azkals protected the rest of the way, mostly through the solid game of Etheridge.

Making his first start for the Azkals since getting benched in Phl XI’s campaign in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers last March, Etheridge proved impenetrable against Hong Kong’s attackers.

Hong Kong had 18 attempts all night, with seven of them on target – all futile against the Fulham reserve keeper.

The Fil-British custodian stopped a penalty by Chan Siu Ki in the second half and made at least three more great saves along the way as he finished with a clean slate and helped the Philippines essay the triumph.

“Hong Kong missed many chances and we also have a fantastic goalkeeper,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss.

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