Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas was left cursing the Hong Kong Stadium pitch last night after key defender Jan Vertonghen suffered a potentially serious ankle injury.
Sunderland reached the final of the Barclays Asia Trophy with a 3-1 win over Spurs, but the defeat was the least of Villas-Boas' worries. They will face Manchester City on Saturday, who beat Hong Kong Champions South China 1-0 in the second match of the night in front of 35,900 fans.
Vertonghen had only been on the pitch - turned into a quagmire by a torrential downpour before kick-off - for 10 minutes when he slipped with no one near him. After lengthy treatment he was taken off on a stretcher and is a doubt for the start of the season.
The Portuguese admitted he was concerned about the state of the pitch beforehand and wondered if the game should have gone ahead. After heated debate between tournament organisers and the clubs' officials, it was eventually decided both games would be played, Spurs-Sunderland after a half-hour delay, and with only 40-minute halves.
Undoubtedly, the impracticalities - and likely furore from the fans - that would have resulted if the event had been postponed would have been key to the decision, but it appeared to have been a costly one for Tottenham. It is believed Spurs did not want the match to be played.
"Yes, but what can you do," sighed Villas-Boas, admitting he had been worried. "The choice of the venue is this one and the weather is unpredictable and the pitch is what it is, it's always been like that for this trophy. It isn't great but nobody's going to change it. Obviously, the conditions are extremely poor and players become vulnerable to these types of conditions."
Villas-Boas said he was hopeful Vertonghen's injury was not as serious as it appeared. "He might have sprained ligaments in his ankle, obviously we have to do the MRI to get the full extent of the injury."
The rain abated before kick-off, but players from both sides had difficulty keeping their footing as the pitch almost instantly cut up and became something of a swamp. Perhaps that contributed to an underwhelming first half, both sides far from their best, though each scored.
Sunderland fielded four of the eight signings manager Paolo di Canio has made this summer as he seeks to reshape his squad; though they had the better of the opening exchanges, it was Tottenham who opened the scoring in the 27th minute.
Right-back Kyle Walker made good ground on the wing and cut the ball back perfectly for Gylfi Sigurdsson, lurking on the penalty spot. His shot took a deflection to beat Vito Mannone. Another of Di Canio's new signings, Cabral, equalised before half-time, bursting from midfield to finish calmly past Heurelho Gomes.
Sunderland went ahead in the 64th minute after Wes Brown headed in from a corner. He won man of the match, delighting Di Canio. Another new boy, David Moberg Karlsson, sealed it in the last minute.
"We saw the pitch was nearly unplayable but the two teams made a good performance," said Di Canio, who had sympathy for Vertonghen. "When an important player gets injured in the summer it's very bad. I hope he can come back soon."