Coach wants to change Guangdong Interport Cup format to one game after Hong Kong go down 3-2 in first leg

Liu Chun-fai says a winner-takes-all, single match would convince Hong Kong clubs to release their top players

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 8:16pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 10:59am

Coach Liu Chun-fai called for a change of format to the annual Interport Cup against Guangdong after watching his young charges lose 3-2 in the first leg in Guangzhou on Sunday.

Liu wants the annual fixture to feature just a single match rather than a home-and-away format in the hope that Hong Kong clubs would be more willing to release their players.

Hong Kong were only able to field a young and inexperienced squad after the top clubs refused to release players in the middle of the season. The Interport Cup is not part of the Fifa international calendar and the clubs have no obligation to free their players.

None of the players in the 20-member squad is from champions Eastern, while Kitchee only released centre half Li Ngai-hoi, who has most spent of his time on the bench. There are only two players from South China – goalkeeper Tsang Man-fai and reserve striker Lam Hok-hei.

Despite the disadvantage, Liu was more than satisfied with his young team’s spirited performance as they twice came from behind to level the score against a home team led by Lu Lin, Zeng Zhao and Chen Zhizhao, who play for Chinese Super League side Guangzhou R&F.

Guangdong scored the winner with 10 minutes left as Hong Kong look forward to the second leg at Hong Kong Stadium on Wednesday.

“I could not ask for more from the lads,” said the coach. “We are the underdogs to the mainlanders in every department – skills, experience, physical build and home-ground advantage, but our young players were able to show a great fighting attitude and levelled the score twice. In the end, we lost the match because there is a big gap between the two sides.

“If we want to make the tournament more competitive and attractive, we should change it to a one-match format so that the clubs will be more willing to release their players for a stronger Hong Kong team.

“Under the existing two-round format, you cannot blame the clubs as they are facing a hectic schedule, domestic and regional, and they have to protect their own interests. The Interport Cup has a long history, but it needs some adjustment to make it better.”

Superior in height, Guangdong were a constant threat through set-pieces. Liao Junjian put them ahead with a header following a free-kick in the early stages, but Tan Chun-lok soon levelled the score for Hong Kong after finding the net from 12 metres out. Guangdong regained the lead when Zeng scored from close range after goalkeeper Tsang could only parry Lu’s free-kick to end the first period.

Defying the run of play, Lai Lok-yin levelled the score for the second time with a low volley after a pin-point cross from Yeung Chi-lun. But Hong Kong failed to maintain their momentum as Liang Xueming found the target to give Guangdong the advantage heading into the second leg.