Only first class will do for HK-bound Slovenian pair

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 February, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2002, 12:00am

Hong Kong-bound Slovenia teammates Zlatko Zahovic and Miran Pavlin have tickets to fly - but only after spending 90 minutes as fierce rivals in a Portuguese league clash.

The star midfielders will be opponents when Zahovic's Benfica take on Pavlin's Porto in one of the highest-profile games of Portugal's season on Sunday, February 10. The duo will then dash to Lisbon airport for a flight to the SAR, where they will play for Slovenia 48 hours later in the Carlsberg Cup.

Tournament chiefs have arranged for the pair to fly first class on Cathay Pacific to ensure they arrive fit and healthy to lead their country's challenge in the opening game against Honduras.

Keith D'Arcy of event organisers Kam Sports International said: 'We want to make sure they have a good sleep on their flight. It is not the first time that we have flown players in on first-class tickets.' The majority of the Slovenian squad will travel from Munich next Saturday.

Organisers dismissed earlier reports that Pavlin might miss the Hong Kong event. 'They were always on the list and they were always expected to come,' said Carlsberg Cup spokesman Derek Currie. 'Slovenia are doing everything possible to get the best squad here to prepare for the World Cup. Of course, there is nothing you can do if they get injured in that last game.'

Just three days ago Pavlin had hinted that club commitments in the Portuguese league and Champions' League could keep him at home.

Currie said he expected Slovenia - making their World Cup finals debut this summer - would be in for a tough match against FIFA Team of the Year Honduras, who narrowly missed out on a place in Japan and South Korea despite a third-place finish in last year's Copa America that was most remembered for their stunning upset of Brazil.

'Honduras' new coach Ernesto Luzardo has kept the core of players of their World Cup [qualifying campaign] team. It's a strong team and is hard to beat,' Currie said.

Uruguayan Luzardo added: 'Our first game against Slovenia will be hard as I know they are tough defensively, but we have plenty of talent in our side and it will be a good contrast of styles.'

China, who are also making their debut in the World Cup finals under Yugoslavian coach Bora Milutinovic, have confirmed a 40-strong contingent for their opening Carlsberg Cup match against the Hong Kong League XI.

Currie said it was doubtful Dundee star Fan Zhiyi would come as he has two Scottish Premier League matches on the weekends before and after the Carlsberg Cup. But he added: 'It's not so important whether China bring Fan here or not because it's more a chance for Milutinovic to test his players in different positions.'

The Hong Kong FA is due to announce the Hong Kong League XI squad today.