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Hong Kong: July 1, 2017 marks 20 years since former British colony Hong Kong was returned to China at a transfer of sovereignty ceremony. Some two decades before the 1997 handover, though, the football history between the sides began and a local sporting rivalry was born.

We look back over the last five decades of derbies between the two teams and pick out some of the most memorable matches. 

June 21, 1975

Hong Kong 0 China 1 (1976 AFC Asian Cup qualifier)

The first-time Hong Kong faced off against their ‘big brother’ from the north was at the 1976 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers hosted by the territory.

The previous year, China had visited Hong Kong to play an inter-league XI which resulted in a 5-2 defeat for the hosts.

Hong Kong midfielder, and future Hong Kong head coach, Kwok Ka-ming played in both matches.

Kwok Ka-ming playing for Hong Kong in the 1970s

“When the China team came for the first time there was a lot of interest, football was very popular in those days in Hong Kong, and China had just begun to open to the rest of the world,” recalled Kwok.

“Against Hong Kong, they used the same team as in the match against the inter-league side. So, it was a tight game, a very good game and very closely-fought. It wasn’t easy for them.”

The visitors, who included notable names in Chinese football such as Xu Genbao and Qi Wusheng, were able to edge out the hosts 1-0 after Rong Zhihang’s 83rd minute winner.

May 19, 1985

China 1 Hong Kong 2 (1986 FIFA World Cup qualifier)

The most celebrated match in Hong Kong’s footballing history came during 1986 FIFA World Cup qualifying in the intimidating surroundings of Beijing’s Workers’ Stadium, which was packed with 80,000 expectant fans.

After the sides had played out to a scoreless draw earlier in the campaign, Hong Kong went into the final group game a point behind their neighbours and needing a win to advance to the final round of qualifiers.

“It was called ‘Mission Impossible’ by the Hong Kong sports writers,” said Kwok, by this time the head coach of the side.

“But I knew that if we tried our best, there can always be surprising results in football. The plan was to focus on defending and try and get a goal in the last 20 minutes; don’t rile them too early.”

Instead, Cheung Chi-tak stunned the hosts on 19 minutes by putting Hong Kong in front. And, as Kwok predicted, China replied quickly with Li Hui levelling the scores.

Yet the response that had been feared ended at that, and it was Ku Kam-fai who was literally Hong Kong’s hero of the hour after he struck on 60 minutes to claim a memorable victory.

The result led to extreme emotions, at either ends of the spectrum, amongst the support in the stands and those back in Hong Kong.

“We couldn’t even go to the changing room after the match. We had to go to the VIP stand for almost 2 hours before we could leave,” added Kwok.

“There were many celebrations when we came back to Hong Kong. There were so many people waiting for us at the airport.”

February 4, 1996

Hong Kong 0 China 2 (1996 AFC Asian Cup qualifier)

It would be 11 years before China could get revenge for that defeat in Beijing, but their meeting in the decisive qualifier for the 1996 AFC Asian Cup proved the perfect opportunity.

With both sides enjoying comfortable wins over Macau and the Philippines in Group Two, the stage was set for a winner-take-all tie at Hong Kong Stadium.

The sides had faced each other three times in the interlude since 1985. Two were drawn before Hong Kong came out on top in the 1995 Dynasty Cup third-place match on penalties.


Hong Kong had not qualified for the AFC Asian Cup since 1968 but with the qualifiers hosted on home turf, it seemed a place at UAE 1996 was in reach.

However, Fan Zhiyi’s 51st minute goal put China ahead and Wei Qun’s strike a minute from time ensured the roles were reversed, and kicked off a run of eight consecutive derby wins for the world’s most populous country.

November 17, 2004

China 7 Hong Kong 0 (2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier)

Hong Kong and China were drawn again in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup and it was the match between the two, at the group stage climax, that would go down in Chinese football history, but for all the wrong reasons.

Level-pegging with Kuwait at the top of Group 4, China - in the match with their neighbours - needed to better the West Asians’ result against Malaysia by a three-goal swing to progress to the third round of qualifying.

But somewhere along the lines, between Kazma SC Stadium in Kuwait and Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou, the wires got crossed.  

“It was a mess. During the match no one could tell us how many goals we needed to score,” said former China midfielder Zhao Junzhe.

Five goals to the good by the hour mark, defender Du Wei was brought on to the field and the confusion continued.

“When I was substituted onto the pitch, I was told we were only behind (Kuwait) by one goal,” recalled Du. “But then after we scored another, they told us we needed one more.”                       

As it turned out, Li Weifeng did add a seventh but that proved to be just one shy of the total needed, as Kuwait progressed on goals scored after winning 6-1 over Malaysia.

“It was a disgrace that we needed to calculate the score and points,” said legendary forward Hao Haidong. “But it was even worse that it was counted wrong!”

September 3, 2015 & November 17, 2015

China 0 Hong Kong 0; Hong Kong 0 China 0 (2018 FIFA World Cup – 2019 AFC Asian Cup joint qualifier)

Another decade passed until the next time the two would meet in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, before which China earned their eighth straight win over Hong Kong in the EAFF East Asian Cup in 2010.

The road to Russia 2018, though, would see the neighbours clash twice more in a pair of thrilling ties.

At Shenzhen’s Bao’an Stadium, just 25 kilometres from the crossing into Hong Kong at Futian, China were heavy favourites to chalk up a ninth derby victory in a row.

However, thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai and his defenders – as well as a large slice of luck – the visitors held back the waves of attack to secure a shock stalemate.

Two months later, the sides met again at a passionate and noisy Mong Kok Stadium where football fever had reached a crescendo.

China were under pressure to show that the first meeting was just a fluke but once more Hong Kong held out and, indeed, held their own to secure a second 0-0 draw which put China’s 2018 World Cup hopes in jeopardy with two matches remaining.

The ramifications were indeed prompt as China coach Alain Perrin departed from his role shortly after the tie.

Team China would ultimately qualify for the next stage of the qualifiers by finishing amongst the best second placed sides, but Hong Kong’s efforts showed that in the contest between ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Little Brother’ it is not always Mission Impossible.

 Photos: FIFA, Getty Images, Hong Kong Football Association, Lagardere Sports