The 5.19 incident: China’s doomed attempt to qualify for Mexico’86


19th May 1985.The date alone is enough to chill the hearts of Chinese football fans. With the national side missing out on Russia 2018, WEF looks back at the ‘5.19 incident’ that ended China’s third attempt to qualify for the World Cup.

Initial qualifying rounds

Almost two months to the day after their unexpectedly successful run in the 1984 Asian Cup ended, China’s World Cup qualifying campaign kicked-off. China, Hong Kong, Macau and Brunei were all drawn in Group 3 with only one able to progress to the next round. The Chinese were installed as favourites as their three much smaller opponents hadn’t even qualified for the Asian Cup the year before.

Gu Guangming

The initial group games were played in Hong Kong and Macau over the Chinese New Year period in 1985. Manager Zeng Xuelin’s 4-3-3 line-up was very similar to that which was so successful for him in the Asian Cup. Beijinger Lu Jianren was in goal behind a back four of Tianjin’s Lü Hongxiang and thee players from Dalian – Zhu Bo, Jia Xiuquan and the experienced Lin Lefeng. The midfield trio were Tianjin’s Zuo Shusheng, Hubei’s Lin Qiang and Li Hui from Beijing, with another Beijinger, Yang Chaohui, and two Cantonese – Gu Guanming and Zhao Dayu – ahead of them.

First up for China was Hong Kong. In front of over 20,000 fans, Hong Kong held their mainland cousins to a 0-0 draw. Not the start China had been hoping for. The squad were not allowed to dwell on it for long though as they had to play Macau three days later. Zeng brought in the Shanghai pair of Qin Guorong and Liu Haiguang as China rebounded with a 4-0 win in front of a considerably smaller crowd than they’d had in Hong Kong.

The Spring Festival celebrations were on hold however as China then faced back to back games against Brunei. The first ended with a thumping 8-0 win in Macau in which the dwarf tiger Zhao scored a hat-trick, and Liu Haiguang and Zuo Shusheng both got doubles. Zeng brought back Li Huayun to join Gu, Zhao and Liu in a four man forward line for the second game. Zhao and Liu both scored doubles as China beat Brunei 4-0.

Back to Beijing

Sitting top of the group, China now had a couple of months off before their final games in May. The players weren’t released immediately though as they played three exhibitions games in different districts of manager Zeng’s hometown of Meizhou, visited Dongshan School (these days linked with the R&F Soccer School) and celebrated the Lantern Festival in Meizhou.

Action from the ‘5.19 incident’ game

The squad reassembled in early May with a few new faces including Wang Huiliang, yet another Meizhou player. He was immediately thrust into the starting line-up for the penultimate match with Zuo Shusheng moved into the forward line and dwarf tiger Zhao dropped to the bench. China strolled to a 6-0 win thanks to two goals from Yang Chaohui and a debut goal for Wang, as well as goals from Asian Cup MVP Jia Xiuquan, Li Hui and sub Zhao. The comprehensive victory put China top of the group on goal difference. They would face Hong Kong on May 19th with progression to the next stage of World Cup qualifying on the line. China only needed a draw but Hong Kong knew they had to win.

In recent times it has not been unheard of for the CFA to give the national side more preparation time than the international window dictates, and thus the best possible chance of progression. In 1985, the authorities refused two of manager Zeng’s requests which would similarly have boosted China’s chances. First, Zeng was denied permission to watch Hong Kong’s two qualification games against Macao in late April and early May so wasn’t as prepared as possible. Likewise, his somewhat unusual request that the Sichuan and Guangxi provincial teams be coached to play like Hong Kong, to give the national squad practice against the most relevant opposition, was also denied.

The 5.19 incident – the build-up
Despite their earlier draw with Hong Kong, China were still the favourites. They’d beaten Hong Kong in qualifying for the Asian Cup six months earlier, had beaten them twice in qualifying for the ’82 World Cup, and Guangdong had won five of the seven Guangdong–Hong Kong Cup matches played to date. Expectations, it is safe to say, were high.

However, this weight of expectation placed a huge psychological pressure on the Chinese team, which was only added to when senior CFA officials visited the squad in the days leading up to the game. Being forced to play in their white away kit rather than their preferred red kit did not help matters either.

A further layer of pressure was added by Hong Kong’s colonial history. The Sino-British Joint Declaration which would return Hong Kong to China had been signed the year before and would be ratified a few weeks after the game. With the colony’s return agreed, one of the final reminders of the ‘century of humiliation’ was to be removed. Football gave the mainland another chance to demonstrate its strength.

The Chinese also had a more recent score to settle. The Straits Times reported that “fighting erupted among players at a bitter first leg” between Hong Kong side Seiko and Liaoning on May 5th. Seiko went on to beat Liaoning 2-1 in the qualifying round of the Asian Champions Cup (forerunner to the ACL). Being beaten by a side from the British colony was bad enough for provincial powerhouse Liaoning but would be unthinkable for China.

The 5.19 incident – the game

Zeng kept faith with the same XI that had beaten Macau, leaving top scorer Zhao on the bench. As captains Lin Lefeng and Leung Sui Wing shook hands before the game they both knew exactly what was at stake.

Despite a fast start from China it was the underdogs Hong Kong that took the lead. A freekick was backheeled to Cheung Chi Tak who hammered a shot into the top corner from 30 yards. 1-0 Hong Kong. China didn’t take long to respond though as Li Hui put in the rebound from Yang Chaohui’s shot. 1-1 with just over half an hour gone and China were going through. Hong Kong knew they needed to score again and that is exactly what they did. With “80,000 Chinese fans booing their every move” Ku Kam Fai put the Hong Kongers back in front on the hour mark. Now it was China who were going out.

Zeng had already brought on speedy forward Li Huayun and now turned to dwarf tiger Zhao in search of an equaliser. The rain came down and China piled on the pressure but couldn’t find the goal they needed. “Tempers flared as China failed to break through” and five minutes from time the Chinese dragged an injured Hong Kong defender off the pitch “in an effort to save time.” Despite this Hong Kong held out for a famous 2-1 win. The result was bad enough for China but it was what happened next that would really ensure the date 19th May became infamous.


Source link