Caroliners success a 'must' if game is to thrive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 September, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 September, 2001, 12:00am

Cristiano Cordeiro says it is 'absolutely essential' South China win trophies if Hong Kong soccer is to ever get back on its feet again. This might be considered a harsh statement, but the 28-year-old Brazilian defender knows it is only too true.

The sport in Hong Kong is trying to recover from its worst-ever season, which saw a massive fall in attendances. And the failure of South China, the SAR's biggest and most popular club, to secure any of the four major trophies - the league, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Senior Challenge Shield - contributed to the decline in interest.

Cordeiro, the reigning Hong Kong Footballer of the Year, is convinced a winning performance by the Caroliners can help stem the tide - and woo back the crowds. And it begins today in the league's opening match against Happy Valley at Hong Kong Stadium.

'Everybody knows that if South China don't play well, Hong Kong soccer goes down. And that if South China don't win, the crowd leaves. It is as simple as that,' said the talented defender. 'I must play well this season. South China must play well. It is absolutely essential because if we don't play well nobody will come. This is more than a game to us, it is a game of survival, too.'

Cordeiro has made a name for himself since joining the Caroliners in 1998 from five-time Brazilian First Division champions Sports Club Internacional.

His skills helped South China win the First Division championship in 2000 and his continued excellence saw him named Hong Kong's best player at the annual Hong Kong Footballer of the Year Awards - a surprising result considering South China's poor season.

'It is all very well winning these awards, but I have a job to do and that is to help South China win trophies. I am fit and well and I am really looking forward to the new season,' said Cordeiro.

For the second straight season, Cordeiro is joined by old clubmates and fellow Brazilians Aderbal Filho and South China coach Casemiro Mior, who was part of the same Sport Club Internacional team that won the Brazilian First Division title in 1992.

'I was just a teenager at that time when they last won the title. I was 19 and I spent a lot of time on the bench. But it is great to be reunited with Filho and Mior, who was assistant coach of the club at that time, for a second year,' said Cordeiro.

But Cordeiro said his heart belongs to South China now, adding that the club needed to be strong. 'If we don't win the league title that's all right because there are other titles to be won too,' he said.

Cordeiro said Happy Valley were again the team to beat for league honours, but Sun Hei were also in the reckoning.

'Happy Valley have basically retained the same side with only a few changes. Sun Hei appear quite strong and they have five good foreign players including Domingos Chan, the very good Macanese goalkeeper. We don't know much about the Chinese team [Xiangxue Pharmaceutical]. All in all, it will be an interesting season.'

Cordeiro said the double round-robin format for the league championship would leave no room for error.

'Last season, you could have a poor first round [the league was divided into two rounds with the championship phase for the top four teams] and still win the league. But now, it will be very hard to win. There's little chance to recover so that's why it is important to have a good start,' he said.