Dunga helps bury ghost of pitches past
NOT all eyes were on the marvellous Dunga at the Hong Kong Stadium last week - the pitch on which the former captain of Brazil was playing came in for the closest of scrutiny.
The ghosts of Wembley International may be hovering over the Hong Kong Stadium but the curse of the pitch has been, for the moment at least, laid to rest.
The disgraceful condition of the playing surface brought ridicule to Hong Kong and the sack for Wembley International. Despite a considerable amount of work and the outlay of millions, the pitch never seemed to significantly improve in the past two years and, towards the end of last season, was suitable only for beach football.
Well, it stood the test of one game of football last Wednesday night and the artistry of Dunga, plus his endless flow of telling passes, was aided by the surface. Last season he would have been mired in clogging sand and watching the ball take on a life of its own.
I have had the sandmesh concept of racing and football surfaces explained to me several times over the years and remain unconvinced - not least because I am of an era where we played and watched football on natural grass and nothing else.
And natural grass - of which Wembley Stadium was invariably held up as the greatest example of a football pitch anywhere in the world - could take plenty of usage.
There are many around in Hong Kong who also played on the old Hong Kong Stadium pitch, which did reveal plenty of wear and tear towards the late middle and end of any given season.
But at least it could still be rolled to resemble an even playing field and those who watched matches on the patchwork surface of the Hong Kong Stadium last season know just what a travesty of a surface that truly was. It was, frankly, impossible to play good football on it.
The Urban Council may also be aided in its efforts to present a reasonable playing surface to teams and fans by the fact that the Hong Kong Stadium is not likely to be overused this season.
The Hong Kong Football Association has sensibly decided on double-headers to take place on Thursday nights and either Saturday or Sunday - almost exclusively at Mongkok Stadium, which also looks in good early season condition. There have been other encouraging signs so far in the local football season, the Hong Kong Stadium playing surface apart.
Almost 20,000 turned up for Instant Dict's game against Jubilo Iwata, for which tickets were sensibly priced. There was the attraction of Dunga and the fact that the first-leg Asian Club Championship game did have obvious meaning.
Even so, it almost certainly came as a pleasant surprise to a number of people in the local game that so many turned up - and had an enjoyable night, too.
That was not just because it was sheer pleasure watching Dunga, but also because Hong Kong crowds have the capacity for enjoying themselves on such occasions.
Mexican waves may be tired and tame fare elsewhere, but they still enjoy it here. Tearing up tickets into small pieces, shredding newspapers and magazines and throwing the resulting debris into the night air may make life more difficult for the cleaners, but it does no harm. And the crowd was also able to give vocal support to the home side, who held their more illustrious visitors for over half an hour before fatally conceding a free-kick on the edge of the area.
Not a wise move when a Brazilian as able as Dunga is on the field. He safely swept the ball over the wall and into the net to put the skids under Instant Dict.
Watching Dunga cajole, instruct, organise and dictate was also to appreciate that Japanese football still has some way to go. There were six internationals in the Jubilo Iwata lineup but none came remotely close to Dunga, and it did need his presence to make the team in any real way effective.
Japan had a disappointing World Cup and it remains to be seen if Philippe Troussier is the man to guide them to much greater glory when they co-host the 2002 tournament with South Korea.
Troussier has spent a lot of time coaching in Africa and he will certainly find life considerably different - and potentially easier - with his Japanese players.
Discipline will not be a problem and he is likely to find his instructions and advice adhered to and taken. Equally, however, he is unlikely to find a budding footballing genius among the Japanese.
For all their volatility and seemingly mindless behaviour at times, African nations are capable of producing some of the most instinctively gifted players on earth.
Still, you can't have everything. And Troussier will be paid well - and on time, too.