SOCCER

Top Hong Kong clubs urged to step up support for Interport Cup

Local association forced to field young inexperienced side against Guangdong in annual home and away series; heavyweights Eastern did not supply one player for the Hong Kong squad

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 11:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 11:37pm

A top official has called for more support from clubs after a young and inexperienced Hong Kong team lost the annual Interport Cup for a fourth consecutive year against Guangdong on Wednesday night.

A 1-1 home draw at Hong Kong Stadium, coupled with the 3-2 loss in the away tie in Guangzhou on Sunday, saw the mainlanders maintain their grip on the trophy since 2013.

In last night’s tie, Hong Kong’s Wong Tsz-ho opened the scoring in the 21st minute before ­Guangdong’s Wang Song hit the equaliser in the 66th minute.

Guangdong have a superior record in the cup tournament, which aims to promote soccer ties between the two regions since its inauguration in 1979. They have a total of 24 victories while Hong Kong have won just 15 times.

But top clubs in Hong Kong have shunned the annual event, forcing the local association to field a young side.

Coach wants to change Guangdong Interport Cup format to one game after Hong Kong go down 3-2 in first leg

Hong Kong Football Association vice-chairman Pui Kwan-kay said the tournament will celebrate an important milestone with its 40th edition next year and he ­appealed for better support from clubs.

“We cannot blame the young lads as they put up a brave fight against much stronger opponents, but the gulf in class ­between the two teams was too big,” said Pui. “We take this tournament seriously and we should give it our all and not let this happen again next year, especially as the tournament will be celebrating its 40th edition.

“The Interport Cup has a long history as it was approved by ­China’s paramount leader Deng ­Xiaoping, who intended to use the event to showcase China’s open policy, which the Chinese leader is accredited for.

“It was an important move back in those days to break the ice between China and the rest of the world and that’s why the tournament carries a lot of significance.”

However, with the event this year taking place in the middle of the season and during non-Fifa days when clubs face a hectic ­domestic and regional schedule, Hong Kong could only be represented by young players led by 20-year-old skipper Tan Chun-lok.

Local heavyweights Eastern, the defending league champions, did not bother to send players to the Hong Kong squad.

Former China international Wang, who scored the all-important equaliser for the visitors in the second half, left Hong Kong Stadium deeply impressed.

“The atmosphere of the Interport Cup was very exciting and it was even more intensive than the China Super League. It was not an easy win against the spirited performance of Hong Kong,” he said.

Hong Kong coach Liu Chun-fai was proud of his players ­despite another loss.

“No one had any expectations on us and some were predicting a big victory for Guangdong but I think our performance surprised a lot of people,” he said.