IT is easy to be wise after the event, of course, but you can't help wondering how much better South China would have fared in the Asian Cup Winners' Cup final if they had played their overseas goalkeeper in both matches rather than just the away leg, by which time the contest was as good as over. South China - and, for that matter, Eastern in the Asian Club Championship - decided to fill their three-strong overseas quota with outfield players, putting their local Chinese 'keeper in goal. To be fair to Leung Cheuk-cheung, South China's perennial reserve, he played exceptionally well in the first round of the Cup Winners' Cup, keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory over Dalian at Mongkok Stadium and then turning in a heroic, courageous display in the 1-0 second-leg defeat in Liaoning province, where he took a rare old battering in a hostile atmosphere. Leung was called on again for the quarter-final tie with East Bengal, keeping another clean sheet in a 1-0 win in Calcutta and conceding only one in a one-sided 4-1 victory in the return game at Mongkok. Given this background, South China's decision to play Leung in the home leg of the final against Saudi Arabia's Al-Qadisiyah at the Hong Kong Stadium on March 19 was understandable. Unfortunately for Leung and South China, the 'keeper's nerves failed him on the big night and he chose the wrong time to have what surely must have been the worst game of his career. A 4-2 defeat left South China with little chance of a comeback in the return leg but it meant a call-up for Dutchman Werner Kooistra at the expense of Leung. Although beaten twice, Kooistra won the ''MVP (Most Valuable Player) Award'' and a cheque for US$1,000. If South China were confident in Leung's ability - and Eastern in Tong Tak-kin's - then why are they not both first-choice 'keepers in the First Division? The fact that they are not means they have very few competitive matches because league games are always preceded by reserve team games, in which the third-choice 'keeper plays because the number two 'keeper must sit on the substitutes' bench during the senior match to cover for the number one. Working on the premise that every team starts at ''nil'' - and if you can keep the ''nil'' you have a chance - then surely the most important player in the line-up is the goalkeeper. Even if you field three brilliant outfield players as your overseas quota, a nervous 'keeper creates indecision throughout the team. This is why an experienced goalkeeper, who knows his defence, provides a tried and trusted base for the team to build on. As I said at the start, it is easy to say what is right in hindsight but hopefully it will be a lesson for the future as the two AFC competitions grow in stature. Colour change shows who's simply the best EVERYWHERE you turn these days there's a Manchester United fan . . . even in the desert wastes of Saudi Arabia. Wandering around the car park of the Al-Raka Stadium in Dammam last Monday evening, a group of home fans began to chat with this particular visitor. The leader of the pack stood out from the crowd because his traditional Arab dress of crisp white thobe, red and white check khutra and Italian leather sandals was rounded off with a striking green and white football scarf. ''Why are you wearing green and white when Al-Qadisiyah play in red and yellow?'' I asked. ''I don't support Al-Qadisiyah,'' he replied. ''I support Al-Ahli from Jeddah. The flag of Saudi Arabia is green and white, though, so this scarf is okay for this match. And who do you support?'' ''Newcastle United,'' came the reply. ''They're having a good season aren't they? Sixth or seventh in the league.'' ''Third actually . . . and only 14 points behind Manchester United.'' Mention of the four-letter word - ManU - earned instant approval. ''We all support Manchester United,'' beamed the fan with the green and white scarf, 23-year-old Mutab Mohammed Al-Shehri. ''Before it was Liverpool but now we've changed. We only like the best, like our Italian leather sandals.'' So if you happen to be strolling through the Al-Raka Stadium car park next season, among the dusty Chevrolets and Mercedes (no Bedford mini-vans with 23 mates packed inside here), look for Mutab and his pals. They'll be easily recognisable by then because of their blue and white football scarves . . . the blue and white of Blackburn Rovers. HONEYGHAN JUST A SOFT CENTRE AT HEART News that Herbie Hide, Britain's Nigeria-born World Boxing Organisation heavyweight champion, will be visiting Hong Kong this week brought back memories of an amusing meeting with Lloyd Honeyghan. The former undisputed world welterweight champion came to Hong Kong in October 1989 on a promotional tour and his agent arranged a lunchtime interview in Honeyghan's room at the Hilton Hotel. Honeyghan arrived late - from a wine-tasting session it appeared - and was a little groggy on his feet, slumping in his corner and proceeding to devour the chocolates and basket of fruit in between rounds of questions. Ding-a-ling, round one: ''So when did you first dream of being a world champion?'' Honeyghan's reply was slow. Round two: ''Were you as surprised as everyone else when you beat Donald Curry in 1986? '' Honeyghan's reply was slurred. Round three: ''How much harder will it be to win the world title for a third time?'' Honeyghan's reply was . . . Z Z Z. Honeyghan, the great Lloyd Honeyghan, a Jamaican from the backstreets of Bermondsey in London to national hero, was out for the count and at peace with the world . . . covered in fruit and chocolate from head to toe. SPORTS PERSON OF THE WEEK: ENGLAND cricketer Alec Stewart, for his two morale-boosting - and record-breaking - centuries in the fourth Test against the West Indies in Bridgetown, Barbados. He is the first Englishman to score back-to-back centuries in a Caribbean Test match. SPORTS QUOTE OF THE WEEK: ''BE patient. Let the others fold. You are the best player in the world.'' - A note from Seve Ballesteros to compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal before the final round of the US Masters. Olazabal did not let Seve down and went on to win a coveted Masters green jacket.