A THIGH injury restricted Gary Lineker's Hongkong debut to just 45 minutes as his Japanese club, Nagoya Grampus Eight, beat Hongkong First Division leaders Eastern in a penalty shootout to win the Mild Seven Cup at Mongkok Stadium yesterday.
Lineker, the 32-year-old former England captain making his first appearance in the territory, was cheered every time he touched the ball by a near-capacity crowd of 7,950.
But it was clear he was not moving freely and, after a quiet first half, he disappeared up the players' tunnel, never to be seen on the pitch again - even for the team picture with his triumphant teammates.
''I wanted to watch the second half but I couldn't get through the crowd,'' explained Lineker, who was trapped by hundreds of autograph hunters.
What Lineker missed was his side win a penalty shootout 4-2 to take the trophy after the sides had finished level 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes.
Although Lineker played only 45 of those, he showed one or two touches of class.
But he managed only one shot on goal - a first-time right-foot drive on the run which flashed wide after he had been picked out by Brazilian playmaker Jorginho.
Lineker, who had been struggling with a thigh strain during Saturday afternoon's practice session at So Kon Po, added: ''It's not right - and under normal circumstances I would not have started the game.
''I would say I'm only about 60 per cent fit but I didn't want to let anyone down. There were a lot of people here and I hope I've kept a few people happy.'' As for the game, a dreary affair for much of the time, Lineker said: ''It's very difficult to say how we played because the pitch is so poor.
''We like to knock the ball about but you couldn't string three passes together before you got a bad bounce.'' Eastern went in front in the 33rd minute with a close-range effort from Dale Tempest after Grampus Eight's Dutch goalkeeper Dirk Havenaar failed to collect a high ball.
Six minutes later the visitors equalised through Jorginho, who exchanged passes with Tetsuya Asano before prodding the ball past Eastern's reserve team goalkeeper Tong Tak-kin.
Tong, stepping in for Iain Hesford, who was ruled out shortly before kick-off with an ankle injury, used the occasion to produce some acrobatic saves.
In the shootout, Tempest and stopper Lai Law-kau saw their shots saved by Havenaar, while captain Lee Kin-wo and Ross Greer both scored. Grampus Eight knocked in their first four kicks, though, to win the trophy.
But Eastern should get a chance at revenge. Grampus Eight aim to return after their upcoming J-League season for a return match in the new Hongkong Stadium.