Injuries weaken squad for Singapore

SOUTH China's midfield star Leslie Santos has been ruled out of Hongkong's two World Cup warm-up matches in Singapore on April 23 and 25.

Santos, who has been plagued by injuries this season and was struggling with a thigh strain recently, hurt his knee in a match against British Forces on Monday and will not make the Singapore trip, his club announced yesterday.

His club skipper, the experienced sweeper Chan Ping-on, has a broken left arm and had already been discounted. South China have confirmed he will stay home along with Santos.

Hongkong have accepted an expenses-paid invitation by Kuwait to play two matches against the Kuwaiti national team in Singapore.

The final selection of 20 players for the Singapore trip, from the existing 28-member training squad for the World Cup, will be made next Tuesday.

Team manager Lam Kin-ming, however, pre-empted any possibility of Santos' or Chan's inclusion.

The two South China players were on the sidelines watching the action when their national squad teammates trained at the Hongkong Sports Institute in Sha Tin yesterday.

Chan's arm is in a cast and he will miss Hongkong's World Cup Group D Asian qualifiers in Lebanon next month but there is every likelihood he can make it for the later round of qualifying matches in South Korea in June.

Santos was still limping yesterday but he is expected to be out for only two weeks, making him eligible for the Beirut qualifiers which begin on May 7.

The exclusion of the two key players from the Singapore tour does not leave selectors with many options as seven others - Wong Wai-tak, Chan Tsz-kong, Chung Ho-yin, Yau Kin-wai, Yam Wai-hung, Ng Chun-chung and Chan Hing-wing - have club commitments.

Sing Tao's Wong and Chan Tsz-kong and Kitchee's Chung and Yau cannot leave with the Hongkong team on April 22 even if they are selected because the two club sides have an evening match the same day.

Officials from Sing Tao and Kitchee, however, have promised to release their players after the Sunflower Travel First Division match and they can leave for Singapore the following morning.

On the other hand, Kui Tan players Yam and Ng and Michelotti goalkeeper Chan Hing-wing will have to return from Singapore ahead of their teammates because their clubs are featured in the Regal FA Cup double-header on April 25.

Team manager Lam said: ''The clubs have agreed to cancel the two FA Cup dates on April 26 and 27 so the players can make it for the Singapore tour, and we will have double header programmes on April 25 and 30 instead.'' Featured on the April 25 programme are the first-round matches between Happy Valley and Kui Tan and Michelotti against British Forces.

There will be two crunch matches on April 30 with Sing Tao playing holders Ernest Borel while Kitchee meet last year's losing finalists Instant-Dict in the second match.