Hong Kong fans turned their backs and booed when the Chinese national anthem was played

Hong Kong (AFP) - Hong Kong fans booed their own national anthem and sang in protest against Beijing’s rule as months of political unrest spilled onto the football pitch in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Iran on Tuesday.

Ear-splitting booing all but drowned out “March of the Volunteers”, the anthem the semi-autonomous territory shares with mainland China, at what was Hong Kong’s first home game after a summer of upheaval.

Fans also sang a newly composed protest song, “Glory to Hong Kong”, repeatedly chanted “Liberate Hong Kong” and waved a black version of the territory’s Bauhinia flag, a symbol of the protests that have gripped the city for 14 weeks.

The sometimes violent protests were triggered by alarm over a controversial bill, since scrapped, to allow extraditions to mainland China.

Millions of people have taken part in the demonstrations which morphed into calls for democracy and complaints against the erosion of freedoms under Beijing’s rule.

“I think football is the most peaceful way to express our demands,” Christopher Chung, a 22-year-old fan, told AFP.

“When you have a sense of belonging to a place, you will watch a football match there. So when I see so many people come here for the match, I feel really happy.”

Booing the national anthem has become common at Hong Kong’s home games, but Tuesday’s action by the crowd of 14,000 was given added impetus by the pro-democracy demonstrations.

It failed to galvanise the hosts, however, as goals from Sardar Azmoun and Karim Ansarifard gave heavyweights Iran victory in their first competitive game under ex-Belgium boss Marc Wilmots.

- Japan make winning start -

Azmoun had a bullet header saved and fired a shot just wide before he opened the scoring on 23 minutes, rifling a half-volley into the bottom corner as he again found himself unmarked in the box.

The Zenit St. Petersburg striker then fed Ansarifard for an acrobatic overhead that cannoned off the crossbar, before Brighton midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh came close when he curled a free kick wide on the stroke of half-time.

Hong Kong occasionally threatened on the break but the game was beyond them when Ansarifard knocked in Iran’s second goal nine minutes after the break, cashing in on Jahanbakhsh’s strong run down the right.

“It was a normal match for us – I only worry about what’s happening on the pitch, that’s my job,” shrugged Wilmots, when asked about the charged atmosphere at Hong Kong Stadium.

Earlier, the Philippines brushed aside Pacific islanders Guam 4-1 for their first win of the qualifiers, Tajikistan beat Mongolia 1-0 and Singapore were 2-1 winners over Palestine.

In Yangon, Porto midfielder Shoya Nakajima and Salzburg’s Takumi Minamino were on target as Japan began their qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win over Myanmar.

Thailand smashed Indonesia 3-0 in Jakarta, while Ali Mabkhout scored a goal in each half as the United Arab Emirates came from behind to beat Malaysia 2-1 in Kuala Lumpur.

Among Wednesday’s later qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, Marcello Lippi’s China play Maldives, Australia face Kuwait and South Korea play Turkmenistan.