Coach joins Caroliners World Cup walk-out

NATIONAL coach Wong Man-wai will hand in his resignation this week, leaving the Hongkong World Cup squad without a South China player or official.

Wong confirmed yesterday he would not be involved when the territory play their World Cup qualifying matches in Lebanon next month and in South Korea in June.

His resignation comes as another body blow to a squad already battered by the withdrawal of five South China players and Caroliners boss Steven Lo Kit-sing, who was acting as an assistant manager.

Wong cited business commitments with South China, where he is team manager, as the reason for stepping down from a position he has held for two years after succeeding Hongkong Sports Institute head coach Kwok Ka-ming.

His move comes less than five weeks before the territory begin their World Cup campaign in Lebanon on May 7-15.

Wong said: ''I have made up my mind. I wish to step down as national coach and I will hand in my resignation to the Hongkong Football Association after the holidays.

''I haven't the time to be team manager of South China and coach of the national squad. The HKFA will have to choose a new coach. There are other coaches apart from myself.'' The coach saw his 22-strong squad whittled down to 17 after five South China players pulled out.

Of the five, only sweeper and club captain Chan Ping-on is injured. The others, midfielders Leslie Santos, Chu Yue-tai, Chiu Chung-man and Shum Kwok-pui, all played a part in South China's 3-0 win over Eastern in the Viceroy Cup final on Sunday.

The foursome are all carrying slight injuries but have said they wish to concentrate on their commitments with the club.

Wong refused to be drawn on the controversial withdrawals or the resignation of Lo, South China's main financial backer, who said last week he was unhappy with the strong influence of arch-rivals Eastern in the squad.

Wong had originally planned to leave his post after the territory's World Cup campaign and said he had considered resigning more than a year ago.

HKFA chairman Victor Hui Chun-fui said on Sunday that he would hold talks with the national team management in a bid to patch together the squad.

Hui stressed that he wanted Hongkong to be at full strength for the matches in Lebanon.

Wong's assistant, Eastern coach Chan Hung-ping, is likely to take over as national coach although he has yet to confirm he is interested in the job.

Hongkong fly to Beirut in early May to compete in the first round of the Asian Group D qualifiers against hosts Lebanon, India, South Korea and Bahrain.

A return series will be held in Seoul, South Korea from June 5-13 and only the winners of the group will advance to the second round of World Cup qualifiers.

Wong said the territory had a very tough World Cup campaign ahead of them and their chances of advancing to the next stage were slim.

Meanwhile, South China's bustling striker Billy Whitehurst will weigh up his options before deciding whether to stay with the Caroliners until the end of the season in June.

Whitehurst, who scored in South China's Viceroy Cup final triumph over Eastern, said he would be having talks with the South China management this week to decide his future.

The 33-year-old former Newcastle United striker said he had received offers to play for two other clubs in Britain but wanted to stay with the league champions for the rest of the season.

''It depends on what the South China management come up with. It's nice to do well in the Viceroy Cup and I have enjoyed myself here so far,'' said Whitehurst, who is on a one-month trial.