Chinese football fans unfurled an anti-Hong Kong independence banner during a AFC Champions League game on Tuesday night.
“Annihilate British dogs, wipe out poisonous Hong Kong independence,” read a banner hoisted in an area reserved for Guangzhou Evergrande supporters, who had traveled to the game to see their team trounce Hong Kong side Eastern Sports Club 6-0.
According to the disciplinary and ethics code of the Asian Football Confederation, a club whose spectators display “insulting, religious, or political slogans” can be punished with a fine of US$2,000 per banner.
The atmosphere in the stadium – held in Hong Kong’s urban Mong Kok district – was hostile from the start, with both sets of supporters hurling obscenities and political insults, and at times having to be restrained by a heavy security presence.
The incidents come after the Hong Kong Football Association was fined twice in 2015 by the sport’s international governing body Fifa, because Hong Kong fans jeered the Chinese national anthem during World Cup qualifying matches.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and the Chinese national anthem is played before games involving the representative team. There has been an upsurge in anti-Beijing sentiment in the former British colony in recent years, including growing calls for independence from Beijing.
On the pitch on Tuesday night, Guangzhou Evergrande, managed by World Cup-winning Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, ruthlessly ousted the Hong Kong debutants and their trailblazing female coach, Chan Yuen-ting.
Nicknamed “Beef Ball,” Chan is the first woman in the world to lead a professional men’s team into a continental competition. However, her side, who were already hammered 7-0 when they played Evergrande away in February, now lie bottom of Group G with one point from five games and no chance of reaching the last 16 of the Asian Champions League.
Evergrande, the two-time Asian champions and winners of the past six Chinese Super League titles, stay second but they will have to beat Suwon Samsung Bluewings in their last game to guarantee progression.
Former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho nodded Evergrande in front after eight minutes before Eastern’s Josh Mitchell put Zhang Linpeng’s cross into his own net approaching half-time.
Brazilian forward Alan poached two goals in 21 minutes in the second half before Paulinho got his second from close range and Yu Hanchao’s free kick trickled in in injury time.
Elsewhere, group leaders Suwon fell 1-0 to Kawasaki Frontale as the Japanese side, who play Eastern in their final group game on May 9, kept up the pressure on Scolari’s team.
In Group H, South Korea’s Jeju United beat already-qualified Jiangsu Suning 2-1 to move into second place above Adelaide United, who scrambled a 3-3 draw with Gamba Osaka.
Baba Diawara’s flicked header in the 91st minute completed Adelaide’s second fightback of the night after they had recovered from falling 2-0 behind in the first 12 minutes.
It leaves Adelaide two points off the qualification spots heading into the final round of group games, where they are facing a must-win clash against China’s Jiangsu.
Shun Nagasawa’s near-post header from a corner put Gamba ahead after six minutes, before 18-year-old Ritsu Doan spotted Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic off his line to make it 2-0.
Adelaide’s Sergio Cirio scored just before half-time and Jordan O’Doherty produced a spectacular finish to level the scores at 2-2 after the break.
Michael Marrone’s own goal seemed to have sealed Adelaide’s fate, but the game had a final twist when Diawara rose unchallenged to rescue a point for the visitors.
Gamba, who are now eliminated, were left to rue an embarrassing penalty miss by Japan veteran Yasuhito Endo, who ballooned his spot-kick over the bar when the scores were locked at 2-2.