Hongkong coach calls on his players' fighting spirit

HONGKONG are banking on the Lunar New Year spirit to lift them to a hat-trick of titles when they meet 1994 World Cup hopefuls Switzerland in the Carlsberg Cup final at Mongkok Stadium tonight.

Despite victories over England's Aston Villa and Yugoslavia's Partizan Belgrade in the past two finals, the territory - represented by a Hongkong League XI - will start as the underdogs against the Swiss national side.

But team coach Koo Luam-khen believes Hongkong's battling qualities can win them the trophy - and a $400,000 cash jackpot in sponsors' prize money and bonuses from the four-strong management team.

After a final training session at the South China Athletic Association stadium yesterday, Koo said: ''Switzerland are a better side and, like the last two years, our opponents start as favourites.

''But we always play with a lot of spirit and are prepared to have a go. That is the best thing about the League XI and is what has won us the tournament for the last two seasons.'' Hongkong brushed aside Denmark's Under-21s 5-0 in the first semi-final on Saturday and were joined in the final by Switzerland, who beat Asian champions Japan 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw over 90 minutes.

While Hongkong coach Koo hopes to name the same team, depending on a fitness test on Kitchee midfielder Sean Edwards, Switzerland's English coach, Roy Hodgson, has retained only four players from Saturday's starting line-up.

''It's case of giving all the squad a game and having a look at the players,'' said Hodgson, whose side lead European Group One in the World Cup qualifying competition with seven points from four matches.

''If I can learn a few things about some of the players then the matches will have been very worthwhile - but we also want to win the tournament.

''Hongkong played very well against Denmark with an aggressive English-style game. They used their height and strength well.

''It will be a tough game for us and that is what I want; I want to see us put under pressure.'' Two Swiss players will represent their country, albeit in a non-cap game, for the first time - Ramon Vega in the centre of defence and Marco Grassi up front.

Midfield general Georges Bregy, a member of the Young Boys club side in Hongkong last year, came on as a substitute against Japan but starts tonight.

If Edwards fails to shake off a calf injury, coach Koo will switch sweeper Chan Ping-on into midfield, move right-back Yau Kin-wai to sweeper and bring in Eastern defender Philip Chan Chi-keung at right-back.