BY OOI KIN FAI Follow on Twitter
Ahead of Tuesday's night AFC Cup quarter final clash between South China AA (SCAA) and Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT), Goal spoke to Tobias Zuser, editor-in-chief of Offside.HK and host of the weekly Hong Kong Football Podcast to get the latest on SCAA.
Goal: Since the round of 16, has there been any changes to the SCAA squad?
Offside: SCAA were relatively inactive during the transfer window. However, their biggest signing was definitely Serbian forward Nikola Komazec, who is expected to add the missing striking power to the team. The four nominated foreign players will be Ryan Griffiths (striker), Nikola Komazec (striker), Mahama Awal (right wing), and Bojan Malisic (centre back). Luiz Carlos, who still played in the Round of 16, was not nominated anymore.
G: How big an impact, if at all that SC will be playing in Mongkok Stadium instead of their usual Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground?
O: Mong Kok Stadium is actually a better ground for them. In Hong Kong teams usually don't have a fixed home stadium, as they can choose their preferred venues according to the previous league ranking. Mong Kok is very central and can accommodate up to 6,500 people. I would definitely expect several thousand to show up, which would be a good turn out in local terms. One special feature of Mong Kok is its relatively small pitch size. The decision of South China to stay in Tseung Kwan O this year was actually a smart move: Tseung Kwan O will be under renovation soon and starting in October SCAA will even play their league games in Mong Kok, which remains to be the most popular ground in Hong Kong for any club.
G: Who are the star men in this team?
O: The most dangerous players are definitely Ryan Griffiths, who previously played in the CSL for Beijing Guoan and later in Malaysia for Sarawak. Another danger man is local hero Chan Siu Ki, who suffered from various injuries last year, but seems to be back in form. He recently scored a very impressive goal against Juventus during their Hong Kong visit in July. Last but not least, I think Johor should also watch out for Cameroonian Mahama Awal, who is a very fast right winger - and of course the new Serbian striker Nikola Komazec. What's more of a problem though: The team has actually not changed very much over the last two years, so Mario Gomez can still draw from his insider knowledge.
G: Are there anyone unavailable for selection for this QF first leg?
O: I haven't heard of any problems so far. Both centre back Chan Wai Ho and striker Chan Siu Ki, who are prone to injuries, stayed away from the recent international friendly game against Cambodia, but I think this was more for reasons of precaution.
G: Tell us about Ricardo Rambo (the head coach). What kind of set-up does he usually employ?
O: Casemiro Mior was sacked midway through this year's AFC Cup campaign, with Brazilian Ricardo Rambo taking over the rein. Rambo was a player in Hong Kong and has been coaching different local teams for more than 10 years. I think after Mior's departure, Rambo managed to bring more discipline and order into the squad. That's how they also managed the miracle to still finish as runners-up after losing the first three games in the AFC Cup group stage. I would expect him to start with a quite defensive plan this time and try to surprise via counter-attacks and set pieces.
G: Given that the Hong Kong Premier League have only just started and SCAA have only played one game, how's their preparation for this QF coming along?
O: I think this time their preparation is really focused on having the full squad available. They got a bye-week last round, so they could save some energy for the AFC Cup game. In their first game of the season, they looked still a bit unbalanced though, with Komazec scoring the only goal of the game.
G: How do you reckon they will fare against JDT?
O: To be honest, given the recent form of JDT, I definitely see JDT as the clear favourites. I guess the best SCAA could hope for would be a 0-0, but that's still quite unlikely given the strong attack of the opponents. If I would have to make a call, I would probably say 3-1 to Johor - I just hope South China can avoid running into a debacle, and the 2nd leg still has some meaning
The AFC Cup quarter final first leg between South China AA and Johor Darul Ta'zim will be played on Tuesday 13th September 2016 at 8pm Malaysian time.