Firemen extinguish 30-year drought

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 September, 2003, 12:00am

Fire Services stunned last season's third-placed team Buler Rangers while claiming their first victory in the First Division since the 1970s.

The Firemen won a game featuring three penalties, with the only goal from open play - an 83rd minute header from Ho Chi-sing - clinching a 2-1 win that sparked celebrations on the pitch, the bench and in the stands at Siu Sai Wan.

'It's been 30 years,' said a broadly-grinning Yu Sui-sing, the Fire Services coach. 'We played really well and we've earned one of our best wins.'

That victory had looked unlikely after Gerardo Laterza marked his return to the league after a two-year absence by slotting an eighth-minute penalty, awarded for handball. But the fire brigade eased their way back into the match and their spot-kick, given for a 33rd-minute push that referee Fung Ka-yu was one of the few to see, was, if nothing else, a fair reflection of the pressure they'd created. Former Hong Kong international Yiu Hok-man converted.

Yiu struck the game's third spot-kick, awarded in the 78th minute when Cheung Yiu-lun hauled down Yeung Hei-chi, even better but Olympic team captain Goldbert Ko Chi-chui pulled off a fantastic save. Fortunately for Yiu, Ho saved his blushes with the thumping header from Yeung's cross seven minutes from time.

'I'm happy. To come back to the First Division and get the first goal and our first win is fantastic,' said Yiu, 25, a league champion with Instant-Dict before he quit full-time professional football.

'It will give us more confidence and improve our spirit. Rangers weren't fit enough. It was the first game for them but we'd played twice already and that made a big difference.'

It wasn't just fitness that cost Rangers dearly, with nine of the 17 players on their teamsheet in Hong Kong's Olympic squad which is preparing to face South Korea on Wednesday, it was little surprise that at times they played like complete strangers.

The under-23s have been busy this month with a training camp in the United Arab Emirates and two first round qualifying matches against Sri Lanka.

'We've just had two training sessions together and this is the result,' complained assistant player-coach Anilton De Conceicao, who missed the match because of damaged ankle ligaments.

In the day's other game South China finally made their first appearance of the campaign, fielding an all-Cantonese side for the first time in years. It's debatable whether it was really worth the wait as the Caroliners were uninspiring in beating Dongguan's Nancheng Real Estate 1-0 thanks to Yeung Ching-kwong's 61st-minute tap-in. 'A lot of people were interested how our all-Chinese team would perform. It was a lot of pressure for the players,' said South China manager Andy Lee Yun-wah. 'But we won - nothing else matters.'