Self-assured Slavs shoot for the moon

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 February, 1997, 12:00am

Yugoslavia were bubbling with confidence, while struggling Switzerland warned that they should not be underestimated, as the pair of former Carlsberg Cup holders arrived for the Lunar New Year tournament.

Switzerland, winners here in 1993, and Yugoslavia, who won the tournament two years ago, flew in yesterday for Hong Kong's biggest soccer extravaganza, which starts on Friday at Hong Kong Stadium.

While Switzerland declared themselves tournament hopefuls, star-studded Yugoslavia promised an even better showing than in their victorious Carlsberg Cup campaign of 1995.

With three big-name players making their Hong Kong debuts - Sampdoria's Sinisa Mihajlovic, the brilliant Dejan Savicevic of AC Milan, and FC Porto's Ljubinko Drulovic - Yugoslavia will field their strongest team possible.

It was a good weekend for some of the Yugoslavs playing in Europe.

Mihajlovic scored a stunning free-kick equaliser for Sampdoria against AC Milan in Samp's 3-2 win in Italy's Serie A.

Savicevic laid on the second of George Weah's two goals for Milan, and Aston Villa star Savo Milosevic scored the only goal as Villa beat Sunderland, continuing his recent good form.

Yugoslavia's head coach Slobodan Santrac said: 'I can only promise you that we will play better than the last time we were here. We are stronger now because we have managed to call up our overseas players.

'This is our best national team. We have our best players here and that's enough for us to win this tournament.' Yugoslavia are one point behind Spain in the World Cup qualifiers. In the last 12 months, the Yugoslavs have beaten Argentina, Faroe Islands and Malta. They have drawn against Mexico, but lost to Japan and Spain.

Switzerland are in the process of rebuilding. Coach Rolf Fringer said he was looking for new blood, and that a rejuvenated side could fly the country's flag should they qualify for France '98.

Many of the Swiss outfit's overseas players were unable to join their teammates - because of injury or because their clubs would not release them.

Winger Kubilay Turkyilmaz, Borussia Dortmund striker Stephane Chapuisat, Inter Milan's Sciriaco Sforza, Everton's Marc Hottiger and Tottenham's Ramon Vega were among those unable to travel for the tournament.

Of the 18 Swiss players here, seven have not represented their country before.

Roughly half of the Swiss side which competed in Euro 96 is missing, but Fringer was not worried.

He said: 'Our players are fighting for places in the Swiss squad, and we should not be underestimated.

'We are a young and hungry side and I'm still confident we can do well in the tournament.

'Both Yugoslavia and Russia are strong sides. We are considered the underdogs, but even underdogs can win.

'It is not out of the question that we can triumph here because I think we're still a good side.' Switzerland have recorded a win and two losses in World Cup qualifying action, but Fringer, the former Stuttgart coach, is still hopeful his team will make the final 32 for the World Cup finals in France.

He said he had big plans for his young stars, like midfielders Johann Vogel, Murat Yakin, Massimo Lombardo and Antonio Esposito, who all play for FC Grasshopper of Zurich, and who are all likely to face Hong Kong in their opening match.

Russia were expected in the territory this morning. Holders Sweden will not defend their title.