Harmony in SAR squad after FA backs down on mainlanders

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 October, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 October, 2000, 12:00am

Hong Kong's preparation for next year's World Cup Asian qualifier is back on track after the FA bowed to pressure and dropped two mainland players from the national squad ahead of its international friendly against Singapore on Sunday.

The 23-strong squad minus Guangdong players, Instant-Dict's goalkeeper Xiao Guoji and defender Feng Jizhi, turned up for the friendly game against the Hong Kong League XI at Sha Tin's Sports Institute yesterday. It was a stark contrast to the squad's first session last week when only 10 players were in attendance.

Happy Valley did not send a single player last week in protest at the inclusion of the mainland duo but all of the team's nine squad members were present to show their support yesterday. There were fears that the FA's move might set a precedent for other mainland players, thus putting local players' international chances at risk.

New national coach Arie van der Zouwen, who has only taken four training sessions with the players, said he was unperturbed by the matter prior to his first official match in charge.

'When you start something new in a new culture, of course you have to understand a lot of things. I was not troubled by that. We trained with 10 [players], then the next time we trained with 20. The most important thing is to bring a balanced squad on to the pitch,' the Dutchman said.

Van der Zouwen refused to raise expectations ahead of Sunday's match although he revealed that he had watched a tape of the game between the two sides from five months ago. That game ended in a goalless draw.

'I think the two teams are more or less equal. But there is no use raising expectations. I can say I expect to win but you can end up losing 5-0. The next time you say you feel like underdogs, then you can play a brilliant game.'

Sun Hei's forward John Moore is likely to play a pivotal role as he led the Hong Kong squad's challenge against the expatriates before losing 3-2 yesterday. Moore and Instant's Anto Grabo are eligible because they meet the FA's seven-year residency rule.

The League XI team, comprising solely expatriate players, will play Shanghai team Shenhua in an interport match, in a curtain-raiser for the Hong Kong-Singapore clash at Hong Kong Stadium.