Hong Kong win pitch battle

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 November, 2003, 12:00am

Hong Kong have won their battle to have today's Asian Cup Qualifying Group A match against Tajikistan moved from the JAR Stadium where the Tajiks surprisingly won a farcical match against Thailand on Thursday.

Hong Kong coach Lai Sun-cheung launched an official protest to the Asian Football Confederation's match commissioner for the four-team tournament, the general secretary of the Football Federation of the Kyrgyz Republic Klichbek Berdibekov, objecting to the use of the police stadium.

'It is the opinion of the Hong Kong delegation that the pitch that we are scheduled to play our remaining matches on is not of an international standard and is not suitable for a tournament as important as the Asian Cup,' said Lai in the letter. 'Even if there is an improvement in the weather ... we would urge you in the strongest possible terms to consider either rescheduling the matches in the Pakhtakor Stadium, which was still in excellent condition at the end of our game with Uzbekistan, or to the MHSKA [Army] Stadium.'

Hong Kong's attempt to force a change in venue was helped by another formal objection by the Football Association of Thailand (FAT), who face hosts Uzbekistan on the plush Pakhtakor Stadium pitch, but threatened to refuse to play their final match of the Tashkent leg against Hong Kong on Monday after facing intense public criticism for allowing the team to play their opening game on a surface littered with puddles of standing water.

'Irrespective of the weather in the next three days there is no way that I would allow the Thai national team to play in the JAR Stadium on November 10 against Hong Kong,' Thai manager and FAT vice-president Thavatchai Sajakul wrote in his protest letter. 'Therefore we would urge you to please seriously consider using the Pakhtakor Stadium for the Thailand v Hong Kong match on November 10.'

The Thais argued that forcing the other nations to play their matches on an inferior surface while Uzbekistan have a perfect surface to perform on, was handing the home team a huge advantage before the action switches to Bangkok for the second phase of the tournament.

'Even in drier conditions it is not international standard,' Thavatchai complained. 'It's obviously unfair, but as the host country it's understandable that they want to use the big stadium to accommodate the crowd. That's the excuse, the only excuse.'

Uzbek officials were last night busy trying to arrange with the Ministry of Defence for the right to use the army's venue, but were committed to a change of venue even if that meant playing both today's matches at the Pakhtakor Stadium.