HK 'fortress' set to repel Uruguayans
Hong Kong League XI coach Kwok Ka-ming is happy to have avoided Denmark and Iran - but that doesn't mean he will be taking Uruguay lightly when the two teams clash on the opening day of the Carlsberg Cup tomorrow. Kwok will respect the South Americans' pedigree and adopt a conservative approach at the Hong Kong Stadium.
Speaking before his 26-strong squad checked into the City Garden hotel in North Point yesterday, Kwok said he will probably play a 5-3-2 formation - a tactic he has used regularly when facing a stronger side during his two terms with the Hong Kong national team.
'I still think we had a favourable draw by avoiding Denmark and Iran in the first game,' he said. 'Denmark have always played well as a team, even though the Uruguayan players might have better individual skills.
'And from what I know the Iranian players have always viewed playing for the national team as the highest honour and they will take any match, even a friendly, very seriously. You just have to look at the way they prepared for and played in the past two Asian Games, in which they twice won the gold medal, to realise what kind of a team they are.
'But having said that, I still think Uruguay are a much stronger team than we are. All I can ask from my players is to give 100 per cent and not worry about the result. And if we play a good game and still lose, I think the fans will still be happy and continue to support us.'
Kwok also confirmed that contrary to earlier reports, there would be no guest players joining the Hong Kong team that had at one point been weakened by players withdrawing due to injury and an alleged disagreement between First Division club Happy Valley and the FA.
Shortly after Kowk announced a 30-man-squad on Monday, South China keeper Chung Hoi-yin and striker Au Wai-lun both pulled out because of injury while the six Happy Valley players selected were ordered not to report to the national team by their club boss Koon Wing-yee.
Last week a spokesman for Carlsberg HK Ltd, the event's sponsors, revealed the FA had been in touch with two of South Korea's World Cup stars, keeper Lee Woon-jae and midfielder Lee Chun-soo, in a bid to strengthened the League XI squad.
'Personally I don't think bringing in one or two quality players from overseas would bring much to our team because football is a team game and no matter how good you are, you can't significantly improve a team after practising once or twice with them,' said Kwok.
On Wednesday, after what HKFA chairman Martin Hong Po-kui termed the 'effort from both parties to put aside their differences for the good of the League XI', all Valley players were allowed to rejoined the squad - a move which Kwok said added much-needed depth to his team.
Perhaps Kwok was most pleased by the return of keeper Fan Chun-yip, as he had been left with Buler Rangers' Chi Chiu Goldbert as his sole choice in goal after Chung's withdrawal. 'I had always thought there was a 50-50 chance our boss would let us go back to the team,' said the 26-year-old Fan, who had an outstanding game for Valley in Sunday's League Cup final against Sun Hei. 'But it is over now and all I need to do is to get myself prepared.'
Uruguay coach Gustavo Ferrin had nothing but praise for the Hong Kong Stadium after holding his team's first practice yesterday. 'This is just an amazing stadium with very modern facilities,' he said. 'The grass is indeed a bit tall, but overall it suits our style.'
Ferrin said he believed his young side would have the upper hand. 'Even though we have a relatively young, I am confident we will win Saturday's match as our country has a very strong football background.'
CARLSBERG CUP SCHEDULE
Tomorrow: 3.30pm, Denmark v Iran; 5.45pm, HK League XI v Uruguay.
Tuesday: 6.15pm, Third-place match; 8.30pm, Final.