Don't write off Hong Kong, says Kwok

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 July, 2005, 12:00am

Former Hong Kong coach Kwok Ka-ming believes the national team will match the might of Manchester United and rise to the occasion today - as they have always done against top quality opposition.

Kwok, who won fame by masterminding Hong Kong's unlikely victory over China in a World Cup qualifier in 1985, thinks the Premiership giants might have their work cut out as they make their third appearance in Hong Kong in eight years.

Manchester United played local club South China in their most recent two visits in 1997 and 1999, winning 1-0 and 2-0 against the Caroliners, but this time around, Kwok says a Hong Kong victory is a distinct possibility.

'In terms of strength of the players, Manchester United, are of course, at a much higher level. They are one of the top clubs in the Premiership. Hong Kong are not as good as they used to be, but there are several factors which might close the gap,' said Kwok, chief technical consultant at the Hong Kong Football Association.

Kwok played against United on their first visit here in 1975 when he took the field for local side Rangers who took a brief lead before falling 2-1. Sammy McIlroy and Lou Macari were the scorers for the Red Devils that June day.

Kwok said the hot weather should work against United, who will struggle adjusting to the climate as in previous visits here. In the 1999 game against South China, Manchester United toiled on the hottest day of the year in 33 Celsius-plus heat to win 2-0 thanks to goals from Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole. But South China held their own for much of the match.

Kwok said there were other factors that might favour Hong Kong. Most importantly, the Hong Kong team started training last month, undergoing training camps both in Hong Kong and South Korea.

'Manchester United only started pre-season training recently. The Hong Kong team started training on June 23, spending 10 days in a training camp here and then going off to South Korea for another 10 days of training.

'Since coming back from South Korea, it has been another week. The players are used to the heat and their time spent both here and abroad will definitely benefit them. They are under no pressure. It's not like this is a World Cup qualifying game,' he said.

Kwok pointed out that Hong Kong put up a fine performance in their 4-2 loss to Real Madrid in 2003. More recently, Kitchee came back from 2-0 down to beat Italian Serie A champions Juventus on penalties last month - providing a timely reminder that local teams can produce the goods.

'I am sure the Hong Kong players will give them a good run,' said Kwok.

As Hong Kong make their final preparations against one of the world's greatest clubs, one player could make all the difference in the match. Striker Au Wai-lun, who turns 34 next month, will make his last appearance in a Hong Kong jersey - and Kwok thinks he will be ready.

'Definitely, Au's experience will count for the team because he has played against Manchester United before [1997]. He said this was going to be his last game for Hong Kong and I am sure he is going to go all out to make it a match to remember. He has worked very hard in preparation for the game and he wants to do well,' Kwok said.

Earlier this year, Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton said Asian players were no longer 'a joke' and that it was only a matter of time before they signed an Asian player. His words became a prophecy after the Red Devils signed South Korean midfielder Park Ji-sung. 'I think signing Park was a good choice,' Sir Bobby said. 'He did well for PSV Eindoven in the Champions League and he played well for South Korea in the World Cup.'