Hodgson has eye on World Cup qualifier

SWITZERLAND coach Roy Hodgson will be using the Carlsberg Cup Lunar New Year tournament as an important part of his build-up to the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Hodgson, a 45-year-old Englishman who took over as the Swiss national coach one year ago, will arrive in the territory on Thursday with his 18-strong squad.

Switzerland play recently-crowned Asian champions Japan in the second semi-final of the four-team tournament at Mongkok Stadium on Saturday, following the tie between the Hongkong League XI and Denmark Under-21s. The final and play-off for third place areon Tuesday.

Hodgson said he would use the tournament as a guideline for selection for Switzerland's next European Group One match, with Portugal on March 31.

Said Hodgson: ''We have a very important year ahead of us and the whole country is right behind us.

''We have made a great start to our World Cup group and I will be using the Hongkong tournament to learn more about my players. If things go wrong in the team, it's better for it to happen in Hongkong rather than against Portugal.'' Switzerland, who have not qualified for the World Cup finals since they were held in England in 1966, lead Group One with seven points from four games. They have beaten Estonia away 6-0, Scotland at home 3-1, Malta at home 3-0 and drawn away 2-2 with Italy.

''In any other group we would be confident of finishing in the top two and qualifying for the World Cup but we have got Italy, Portugal and Scotland in there, too,'' added Hodgson.

''I cannot see any weaknesses and it will take a bit of luck to do it. I think there will be one team feeling very sorry for themselves when it's all over and I just hope it is not us.'' Although the Swiss will be without three leading players in Stephane Chapuisat (Borussia Dortmund), Adrian Knup (VfB Stuttgart) and Kubilay Turkylimaz (Bologna), Hodgson said his squad was packed with quality.

Central defenders Andre Egli (Servette) and Alain Geiger (FC Sion) have 149 international caps between them, while Georges Bregy (Young Boys) - ''a remarkable technician, the midfield motor'', said Hodgson - is another experienced international with 36 caps.

Midfielder Ciri Sforza (Grasshoppers Zurich) has been attracting the interest of English Premier League rivals Sheffield United and Southampton. Up front, Alain Sutter (Grasshoppers) is a tricky winger and Christophe Bonvin (Neuchatel Xamax) is regarded as the danger man.

Injured defender Dominique Herr has been replaced by Ramon Vega.