Cloud over Santos' World Cup fitness

INJURED midfielder Leslie Santos is struggling to be fit in time for Hongkong's World Cup preliminary matches in Lebanon in May.

The South China star is taking longer than expected to recover from a sciatic nerve injury sustained when he hurt his hamstring in the final of the Camelpaint Challenge Shield against Eastern more than seven weeks ago.

The former Hongkong Footballer of the Year has not been able to train properly despite weeks of therapy and may miss the opening World Cup qualifiers, which take place in Beirut from May 7 to 15.

Hongkong have been drawn in Group D in the preliminaries against Lebanon, India, South Korea and Bahrain. The South Korean capital Seoul will stage the five-nation group's ''return'' legs from June 5 to 13.

Hongkong coach Wong Man-wai is crossing his fingers that Santos will make a full recovery before the vital matches.

But he faces an agonising wait, as it will be at least another month before he knows whether his influential midfielder has a chance of playing.


''He has a very troublesome injury which is not easy to heal. He has been seeing a herbalist regularly but it could take him a few more weeks or even months before he can make a full recovery. He is only slightly better than when he first had the injury,'' said Wong.

''He still has plenty of time before the World Cup qualifiers and he could still make a recovery before then. All he needs now is plenty of rest.'' Santos has been doing only light training and up to yesterday complaining he was still in pain.

''I've been pretty unlucky the last few months. I hope my injury will heal soon because it is getting frustrating,'' said Santos.

Wong is expected to name his initial squad of 26 players for the World Cup by the first week of March.


''The squad will most likely be similar to the Interport squad. I have to get together within the next two weeks with the Hongkong team managers and discuss the squad.'' Wong said the players would meet once a week for training in March and gradually increase training to three times a week before they leave for Lebanon.