There were boos aplenty, but they were all for Singapore at Mong Kok Stadium, in a friendly that felt anything but in terms of regional prestige.
It was said many times during the pandemic that Hong Kong had fallen behind its oft-compared southern counterpart, and the spectacle of its football team trailing the Lion City 1-0 early in Thursday's international promised uncomfortable symbolic mileage.
In the end, there was a diplomatic 1-1 draw, even if Hong Kong held the initiative for the lion's share of this battle of international hubs.
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Asia's self-styled world city at least avoided a total public-relations disaster on the day golf's pointedly named World City Championship got under way across town.
There was an own goal, but by the visitors' Lionel Tan Han Wei, to cancel out his strike at the correct end.
The occasion passed, though, without the jeering of the Chinese national anthem that had been audible from home fans at recent matches. A near-6,000 crowd at the compact ground generated a mighty din, but not of the unflattering sort aimed previously at "March of the Volunteers", including during September's 0-0 draw with Myanmar.
Instead the bear-pit atmosphere repaid the Hong Kong Football Association's faith after it appealed for football to take centre stage. Their coach Jorn Andersen has much to mull over, however, before the Asian Cup finals when they begin in 10 months' time.
His players began with the greater attacking intent the Norwegian has asked for, and were first to threaten when Matthew Orr approached the penalty area from the right. His deflected chip found Wong Wai, who skied a shot.
Orr then turned Tan before seeing an effort blocked, and Huang Yang and Wong Tsz-ho blazed wide from distance.
It had been one-way traffic, which was perhaps the only explanation for the sleepy home defending in the 20th minute when Singapore scored from their first corner, Taufik Suparno's back-heeled flick being turned in by Tan.
Facing a side missing several players and ranked 160th in Fifa's world rankings to their 146th, Hong Kong went straight back on the offensive. They soon received another warning when, having overcommitted in attack, they gave Sahil Suhaimi a chance on the counter.
Then came the own goal, but for Singapore, in the 43rd minute when Ju Yingzhi's cross was turned into his own net by Tan.
More was needed for Hong Kong as they work towards the 2026 World Cup qualifiers that begin in October, and the finals of the Asian Cup, in Qatar next January and February, for which they have qualified for the first time since 1968.
Orr and Wong Wai provided the bright spots for Andersen. Before half-time, Wong had a free-kick deflected over, and Orr volleyed just off-target then teed up Wong for a shot. After it, Orr hooked an overhead kick just over the bar and Wong whistled another set-piece close to the goal frame.
Suhaimi's close-range effort gave Hong Kong a scare, as did an 89th-minute free-kick by Zulfahmi Arifin. Between those, after 82 minutes, came an opportunity for the hosts to lead. Naturalised forward Mahama Awal, making his debut as a substitute only a day after collecting his passport, squared for Poon Pui-hin but overhit it.
Hong Kong surged forward to the last, straining in vain to reassert their primacy.
Hong Kong: Paulo Argolo - Wong Tsz-ho, Leung Nok-hang, Helio Goncalves, Tsui Wang-kit (Yue Tze-nam, 81min) - Law Tsz-chun (Poon Pui-hin, 81), Huang Yang (Ngan Cheuk-pan, 65), Ju Yingzhi (Philip Chan Siu-kwan, 65), Wong Wai - Sun Ming-him, Matthew Orr (Mahama Awal, 65).
Singapore: Hassan Sunny - Irfan Najeeb, Anumanthan Mohan Kumar, Lionel Tan Han Wei - Glenn Kweh Jia Jun (Amirul Adli, 73), Hafiz Nor, Hami Syahin, Ho Wai Loon (Daniel Goh Ji Xiong, 58), Zulfahmi Arifin - Sahil Suhaimi (Joel Chew Joon Herng, 80), Taufik Suparno (Huzaifah Aziz, 58).
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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