Indians provide warm welcome for South China
SOUTH China's players and officials, who had to run a gauntlet of angry Dalian supporters after their previous Asian Cup Winners' Championship tie in China, were given a warm and colourful welcome in Calcutta yesterday.
The Caroliners, who meet powerful Indian side East Bengal in the first leg of their quarter-final tomorrow, received roses at the airport and garlands of flowers on their arrival at the hotel.
The greeting was in stark contrast to their chaotic departure from the Dalian Stadium a month ago after clinching a 2-1 aggregate victory to progress to the last eight.
Under a heavy police escort, the two minibuses transporting the players and officials were pelted with missiles and kicked and punched by fans who had just seen their own team eliminated.
The hospitality, however, will be put on hold when the match kicks off tomorrow afternoon in temperatures approaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
A crowd of 55,000 watched East Bengal beat Iraqi representatives Zawra 6-2 in the Calcutta leg of their first-round tie - Zawra won the return 2-0 to go out 6-4 on aggregate - but an attendance of around 80,000 in the 100,000-capacity stadium is predictedfor tomorrow's match.
With South China more accustomed to playing in front of three or four thousand people at Mongkok Stadium, the Asian club tie will be a different world altogether.
The players were hoping for a good night's sleep last night ready for a visit to the stadium today and an afternoon workout.
With key striker Anto Grabo withdrawing from the squad at late notice on Friday because of a hamstring injury, Marko Perinovic will be the lone forward in a 4-5-1 formation.
The 29-year-old Canberra-born Croat will be starting only his second match of the season after damaging his left knee in the league opener against Eastern on September 19.
He played the last 15 minutes in the 2-0 league win over Happy Valley last Tuesday but has had only five training sessions to prepare for what he describes as the most important game of his career.
South China: Leung Cheuk-cheung; Wan Ho-yin, Ku Kam-fai (captain), Dennis Koffyberg, Chan Wai-chiu; Loh Wai-chi, Chan Ping-on, Chiu Chung-man, Shum Kwok-pui, Niels Gerestein; Marko Perinvoic.