World Cup flavour to Lunar tournament
By JEREMY WALKER
NATIONAL teams from Africa, Asia and Europe will turn next year's Carlsberg Lunar New Year football tournament into an inter-continental championship at Mongkok Stadium.
Organisers of the four-team tournament, which will take place on February 10 and February 13, the first and fourth days of the Lunar New Year, are close to finalising the lineup.
And the Hong Kong League XI, represented by local Chinese and overseas professionals, can expect to be joined by rising African force Ghana, Asian powerhouses South Korea and Romania from eastern Europe.
If the three overseas teams are confirmed it would mean the Hong Kong tournament having one, possibly two, of the qualifying countries for next summer's World Cup in the United States.
South Korea clinched one of the two spots from the final Asian qualifying tournament in Doha, Qatar, last week, while Romania stand second in European Group Four behind Belgium. A draw away to Wales in their final qualifying match on November 17 would virtually guarantee them a ticket to the US.
Carlsberg's public relations manager Derek Currie said last night: ''We want to bring in some fresh teams and different styles and feel we would achieve this with the three countries we have lined up.
''South Korea have been pencilled in for a long time and hopefully they will come now they have qualified for the World Cup.
''If they had failed to qualify, their team would have been disbanded. But now they are on a high and will be looking for as many competitive games as possible in the build-up to the World Cup. Hopefully, the New Year tournament will be perfect for them.
''Talks are still going on with Ghana and we are trying to finalise a schedule that would take in more matches after Hong Kong.
''Romania have shown a strong interest to come and have been pencilled in.'' Last season's Lunar New Year tournament featured a Hong Kong League XI, Switzerland, Japan and the Denmark Under-21s.
Switzerland, who look certain to qualify from European Group One under their English coach, Roy Hodgson, beat Hong Kong 3-2 in last season's final.