Cheung to miss World Cup clash

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 12:00am

Hong Kong will face Malaysia in tonight's World Cup qualifier against Malaysia at Mongkok Stadium without the services of playmaker Cheung Sai-ho.

The 29-year-old Happy Valley midfielder has been ruled out of the tie after his troublesome groin injury failed to withstand the rigours of shooting practice.

'He can't play,' confirmed coach Kenny Lai Sun-cheung. 'The muscle is to weak.'

The enigmatic Cheung could hardly be described as being downcast, shrugging off the disappointment of losing a week-long battle with the injury by pointing out that neither team had anything to play for.

'Never mind. There's no chance of playing. If it was the other teams [China or Kuwait], maybe I'd be unhappy, but it's Malaysia and I have no strong feeling,' Cheung said.

In Cheung's absence, Lai will pull Wong Chun-yue back into the right side of midfield, while asking Sun Hei midfielder Poon Man-tik to play at right-back, a position the 29-year-old used to occasionally fill for his previous club South China. Veteran Au Wai-lun will again lead the attack.

'An early goal is better for us. It will improve our confidence,' said Lai.

'I think now, although Au is on old guy as a player, this is a good challenge for him. Maybe he doesn't have that much more time to play.'

Lai agreed that finishing third in the group was still a target, one that a draw today would probably secure, but felt that the quality of the match was more important.

'We're not going into the second round. There's no pressure on either team. I just hope it's a good game and that lots of people come to support us,' he said.

Malaysia have already clearly stated that this match is more important to them as preparation for the Tiger Cup (the Asean Championship) in December.

They've come here with only half of the 18-man squad who were involved in a very positive display in defeat against China last month.

The one plus is the return of striker Indra Putra, who missed the China game because of a head injury. The 23-year-old beat a series of overseas strikers to the top-scorer's title as his Pahang side won the inaugural Super League title in Malaysia.

'He's a good player,' said Malaysia's Hungarian coach Bertalan Bicskei, smiling elusively when asked to elaborate.

'He's good. Let's just say we have some good foreign strikers in Malaysia,' he added, the inference being that Indra Putra's 15 goals marked him out as something extra-special.

Bicskei joined Lai in predicting that, with the pressure off and neither side having any reason to fear defeat, that the encounter would be entertaining.

'This match we want to make a good game, a good result and good preparation for the Tiger Cup. I hope I can find one or two good new players for the national team,' the 60-year-old said, laughing off the suggestion that his wishlist was like asking for both his birthday and Christmas presents all at once.

'I think Hong Kong playing at home will want to make it a good game before their own spectators. Of course, they'd like to win. We'd like to win. I'm sure that will make it a good game.'


(Probable) Goalkeeper: Fan Chun-yip (28, Happy Valley). Defenders (right to left): Poon Man-tik (29, Sun Hei), Ng Wai-chiu (22, Nanjing Yoyo), Lee Wai-man (31, Happy Valley, captain), Peter Man Pei-tak (22, Buler Rangers), Poon Yiu-cheuk (26, Happy Valley). Midfielders: Wong Chun-yue (26, Sun Hei), Lau Chi-keung (27, Sun Hei), Law Chun-bong (23, South China) or Kwok Yue-hung (29, Happy Valley). Forwards: Au Wai-lun (33, South China), Chu Siu-kei (24, Sun Hei),