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The Day South China became “Unofficial” World Club Champions in 1994

Anto Grabo takes on Sao Paulo in 1994

With the news breaking this week that South China are voluntarily dropping into the Hong Kong first division to focus on youth development. WEF’s Chris Lau looks back to when one of the SAR’s most storied clubs held an unofficial world title.

April 5th, 1994 would be a day that Hong Kong football rocked the world as South China became ‘Unofficial’ World Club champions by defeating the official holders of the title, Sao Paulo of Brazil 4-2, in a sun drenched Hong Kong stadium.

The game remains one of those ‘Were you there moments?’ in Hong Kong football and the match  has since past into local footballing folklore. Those who were lucky enough to witness this once in a life time match will never forget that fateful day. In brief, Sao Paolo were the best club team in the world but could they do it on a bumpy pitch on a humid day in Hong Kong? The answer is a resounding no!

Cafu takes on AC Milan in Tokyo in December 1993. Photo: Scoopnest

In 1994, Sao Paulo were the dominant club kings of the world after defeating one of the greatest  AC Milan sides  3-2 in Tokyo in December 1993. That fabled AC Milan consisted of mega stars such as Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Demetrio Albertini, Marcel Desailly, Roberto Donadoni and Jean Pierre Papin and were managed by Fabio Capello. Sao Paulo were expected to be defeated by that mythical AC Milan side but in an entertaining five goal thriller, the Brazilians, managed by the legendary Tele Santana, won 3-2. Brazilian football was held with the highest esteem and both the Brazilian national team and club sides were globally feared and respected but to defeat ‘that’ AC Milan was no mean feat. 

Sao Paulo cemented their dominance of global cub football in the nineties by again travelling to Japan in April 1994 to play in the South América Cup of Winners Cup final (Recopa final) against Botafogo. Sao Paolo had dominated the South American game in 1993 and won both the Copa Libertadores 1993 and the 1993 Supercopa Libertadores. In these circumstances, technically Sao Paolo should have played ‘themselves’ in the final but, of course, could not so they took on Botafogo (Conmebol  Cup winners 1993) and won the game 3-1. Sao Paolo had won everything there was to win at global continental football level.

Sao Paulo could match and defeat the greatest club sides in the world and at that time, nothing could stand in their way. Sao Paulo played a sublime and fluid passing game which saw them defeat everyone. In their ranks were house hold names such as Cafu and upcoming stars such as Leonardo and a very young Juninho Paulista who would soon light up the English premier league. 

Ku Kam Fai was a rock in the South China defence. Photo: Wikipedia

Before they were set to go home to Brazil, Sao Paulo had one friendly game to play in Hong Kong. Sao Paulo could pass any team to death but the uneven Hong Kong stadium pitch was and is still a great leveller. 

As the game unfolded, those at the stadium and the many watching on television saw one of the great upsets in football history unfold. Sao Paolo looked to be strolling to a win after they scored first via Palhinha in the 38th minute; yet South China, aided by a passionate crowd,  fought back. Dale Tempest  and Lee Kin Wo were Eastern players but were asked to help bolster the South China attack and did so with deadly efficiency.

The mastermind behind the win was legendary manager, Raymond Ng Wai-Man, who knew that South China had a chance; his South China team had rugged defenders like Chan Ping On, Yau Kin Wai, Ku Kam Fai and defensive midfielders like Shum Kwok Pui, who feared no one. 

Lethal in the Hong Kong league, Tempest rose to the occasion and struck in the 45th, 56th and 79th minutes to send the home crowd into raptures. When right-winger Lee Kin-Wo, added a stunning fourth goal in the 81st minute, South China’s afternoon was complete and they had won 4-2. Despite pulling the game back to 2-2 at one point, Sao Paulo were defeated and the repercussions were far reaching. The shell-shocked Brazilian media were befuddled and credited the hat-trick to a “Dalio Tempesto” as surely only a Brazilian could score a hat-trick against the mighty Sao Paulo back then!

Former South China, Eastern and Hong Kong striker Tempest reflected on the historical and unforgettable match which he deemed the highlight of his entire career in Hong Kong. The day was made all the more special as Tempest managed to score a hat trick against the then world club champions:

“That was a special day. I still have the ball (match ball)  and I have it up in the loft somewhere but I am not sure actually where. I have three balls from when I got hat tricks, I have them up in the loft as my wife will not let  me have them on display so they have to be placed up in the loft!”

Raymond Ng Wai-Man (right) masterminded the defeat of world champions, Sao Paulo. Photo: youtube

“What is was, was that South China had done a deal to play Sao Paulo after they had played AC Milan in the world club championships in Tokyo. South China also drafted myself in and Lee Kin Wo. There was only the two of us who joined the South China side as normally teams in HK consisted of a mix of teams but in this instance it was just the two of us.”

Tempest went onto discuss the much maligned Hong Kong stadium pitch which also played a part in the Sao Paulo side not being able to play as fluidly as they normally could.

“I remember the pitch was terrible; the Hong Kong stadium pitch at the time was awful and I do not think it has improved much as I have seen pictures of the pitch from time to time!” 

Tempest went onto praise his ex team-mate, the Dutchman, Werner Kooistra, who was the goalkeeper for South China at that time and who pulled off some magnificent saves on the day.

“I also remember Werner Kooistra and Werner had one of those world-class games. I mean Sao Paulo had so many chances though they kept having too many touches and when they did have the ball on target then Werner was in amazing form. I seem to remember that they scored first and I also equalized just before half time and just caught the keeper going the wrong way and he could not get enough on it to stop it going in.”

“I think we went maybe 2-1 up and then it was 2-2 and I remember there was a defensive midfield lad who was playing for South China and he put me through to beat the offside trap and I went through one on one with the keeper to make it 2-1 and then Lee Kin Wo scored one as well and I think, if my memory serves me right, he got the fourth. One of the goals was when Lee Kin Wo had a shot and it went across the goal for an easy tap in.”

“I remember the atmosphere and the place erupted for each goal we scored; I can’t remember how many people were there but it was a great atmosphere which we always got when big teams came to Hong Kong and it was amazing how Hong Kong fans cared especially when we had the HK league XI and we could get results against the best teams in the world.”

Anto Garbo, the seasoned ex South China striker, also shared his treasure memories of that once in a life time game in 1994.

Anto Grabo starred in the game against Sao Paulo. Photo: Apple Daily

“Sao Paolo has just came from Japan and they were current club world champions having beaten AC Milan (In December 1993) and they had several national players including Cafu, Leonardo and Juninho Paulista. For South China then, we were excited to play a game against some of the best players in the world but during the game, we found out that we were still competitive and the pitch helped us as the pitch was not in great condition and they missed a couple of chances and we took all our chances and we ended up as winners which was an amazing experience.”

“What you get in Hong Kong, for example, is that you can play the best players in the world because many famous teams came to Hong Kong for exhibition games and this allows the local players to play and this was for me, a chance to play against your idols and this is a great experience which people will never forget for the rest of their life.”

“I mean how many times can a player (Dale Tempest) score three goals against one of the best teams and perform to a certain level? After the Sao Paulo match, South China went to Saudi Arabia to play in the Asian Cup Winners Cup (against Al-Qadisiya) and when we arrived in Saudi Arabia, there was a big crowd there and there were so many journalists there who wanted to do interviews as they thought ‘these guys beat Sao Paulo and this can happen to us’ and they really cautiously approached the game and they thought it would be a really tough game and we lost 2-0 in the end with one great free-kick.”

For the Sao Paulo players who played that fateful day, this game has no doubt been wiped from their memories and lost in the fog of time and dismissed outright as a forgotten ‘friendly.’ Maybe Sao Paulo’s visit to Hong Kong in 2007 to play Bayern Munich for the 10th anniversary celebrations of Hong Kong’s handover in 1997 was a way to exorcise the ‘ghosts’ of that humiliation but it did not work as Sao Paulo lost to Bayern Munich. It seems Sao Paulo and Hong Kong are just not meant to be. 

Many of the Sao Paolo players went on to become global names, as only a few months later, players such as Cafu and Leonardo (despite his red card versus the USA) won the World Cup in the United States and as their literal fortunes and trophies haul grew and grew; they became megastars and no doubt, live comfortably now.

Werner Kooistra was unbeatable against Sao Paolo. Photo: 11freunde.de

For the long retired South China players who pulled off that historical win, the moment no doubt still lingers. On a humid day, on a cut up Hong Kong stadium pitch, when the final whistle blew, these South China players could pinch themselves and wonder if they were in a dream world; South China were the greatest club team in the world! The city celebrated and if only for one day, Hong Kong was the centre of global football and the players / management would have memories to last a life time and no one can ever take this away from them.

South China 4 (Tempest 45, 56, 79, Lee Kin-Wo 81)

Werner Kooistra; Yau Kin-Wai, Marcel Liesdek, Ku Kam-Fai,  Chan Ping-On; Lee Kin-Wo, Shun Kwo-Pui, Alen Bajjusa, Wu Qun-Li, Anton Grabo, Dale Tempest.

Manager: Raymond Ng Wai-Man

Sao Paulo 2 (Palhinha 38, Cafu 76)

Zetti; Vítor, Válber, Júnior Baiano, André; Doriva, Cafu, Leonardo, Palhinha (Juninho); Euller, Guilherme.

Manager: Tele Santana

Where are they now? What became of players from both sides from that fateful game. 

Werner Kooistra: Played for South China from 1994 to 1997 and is now a goal keeping coach at VVSB in the Dutch second division.

Yau Kin Wai: Hong Kong footballer of the year in 1998/1999 and a mainstay for South China for over a decade. Yau is now a TV football commentator.

Marcel Liesdek: The Dutch defender retired in 1997 after a four year stint with South China.

Ku Kam Fai: One of the best defenders in Hong Kong history and a member of the Hong Kong team which defeated China in world cup qualifying in 1985; Ku is now an assistant coach at South China.

Chan Ping On: The former South China defender is now a TV football commentator

Lee Kin Wo: Former Hong Kong international, who was a legend for both Eastern and South China,  went onto to coach Hong Kong in 2007.

Shum Kwok Pui: The former South China player is now a qualified coach in Hong Kong.

Alen Bajkasu: The striker played for South China and then for SM Caen in France. He also played for Happy Valley. He is now a football agent based in Malaysia.

Wu Qun-Li: The skilled midfielder helped to lead South China to a league title in the 1996/1997 season. The former China international was named the CFA footballer of the year in 1990 and 1993.

Dale Tempest: The former HK international remained in Hong Kong for most of the nineties and is now a betting expert with Skybet in the United Kingdom.

Anto Grabo: The Bosnian striker spent most of his career in Hong Kong and played for notable clubs  such as South China and Golden. Grabo is now a respected coach in Hong Kong. 

Raymond Ng Wai-Man: The legendary and much respected manager led South China to one of the greatest shocks in world football. Ng passed away in 2011 in California (USA) and is remembered as one of the greatest managers in Hong Kong and Chinese football.

Sao Paulo

Zetti: The goalkeeper went onto be a world cup winner in 1994 with the Brazil squad and played 17 times for Brazil.

Vítor: The young defender went onto play for Corinthians, Cruzerio and Vasco da Gama.

Júnior Baiano: The famed player went onto play 25 times for Brazil and was part of the Brazil squad at the 1998 World Cup finals.

Andre Luiz: The midfielder went onto play for Marseille and PSG and eventually the United States to play for San Jose Earthquakes where he is now a coach.

Doriva: The central midfielder went onto win three titles with Porto and also played for Sampdoria and Middlesborough.

Cafu: The defender went onto win two world cups with Brazil. First in the United states in 1994 and then in 2002 as captain in Japan / South Korea.

Leonardo: The midfielder  went onto win the world cup in 1994 and enjoyed a fruitful playing career with teams such as Kashmir Antlers, Paris Saint Germain and AC Milan. He also went onto manage both AC Milan and Inter Milan.

Juninho Paulista: The fleet footed player went onto play 49 times for Brazil and lit up the English premier league with Middlesbrough in two stints after a period of time in Spain with Atletico Madrid.

Euller: The striker went onto play for several domestic clubs in Brazil and also played in Japan for Kashima Antlers and Kawasaki Verdy.

Guilherme: Guilherme is now a coach at Vila Nova Futebol Clube

Tele Santana: The beloved manager of the 1982 Brazil World Cup team which dazzled the world; Santana is still respected by aficionados of the game and still fondly remembered in Sao Paulo for providing so many golden memories. Santana passed away in 2006 and is still revered today.

Christopher KL Lau was born in England and grew up in both England and Hong Kong, and has a background in media, education and non-profits. He also is a freelance writer / photographer and has written for a number of magazines, websites and newspapers around the world on many subjects ranging from the arts to travel. Chris is passionate about sports and its place in society and is keen to promote both Hong Kong and Chinese football to a wider audience.

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