Following a tumultuous week of accusations over losing a direct group stage spot in next year’s Asian Champions League, the HKFA has tried to pull strings over the weekend. Eventually the board decided unanimously that the application should be resubmitted, reinstating Eastern – as the 2015/16 Premier League Champions – for the ACL group stage, and Kitchee – as the AFC Cup play-off winners – for the ACL 2nd round qualifiers. That said, the deadline for re-submissions actually passed on November 14th, but after informal talks during an AFC workshop in South Korea, the HKFA appears hopeful that their changes will be accepted. The final decision rests with the AFC Committee, which will meet on November 24th. In case the committee does not approve the new nominations, Kitchee might end up as the only Hong Kong representatives in the 2017 AFC competitions, starting in the 2nd qualifying round as well. That means, Hong Kong football can only gain something from this move.
In fact, securing the group stage spot in 2017 is of utmost importance for Hong Kong, as it will become significantly harder in the future for smaller AFC member associations to enter Asia’s top flight. As the HKFA explained, the AFC ranking method will change soon:
“Under current arrangements the AFC Member Associations are calculated on a 70/30 ratio where 70 relates to the results gained by clubs in AFC Competitions and 30 by the performance of Member Association representative teams in international competitions. The new system will be based on 100% club performance.”
While the re-submission means that Southern will not be able to participate, there is hope for Eastern to reclaim their award from winning last year’s Premier League. As centre-back Josh Mitchell points out: “The club, staff and players deserve to represent Hong Kong on an international football stage and we have our fingers crossed that we are allowed to do this.”
Having a team from Hong Kong in the ACL would definitely be a historic football event and would give fans the opportunity to see top clubs from China, South Korea, Japan, and Australia. SCMP reported that in case of a successful application, Eastern would organise a training camp in Thailand and consider the signing of additional players – most likely on-loan – to strengthen the current squad.
A participation in the ACL would put Hong Kong in the limelight of international football – also for some other reasons: Chan Yuen Ting, who was just listed by BBC as one of 2016’s top 100 women, would make history again as the first female head coach in the world to manage a men’s team in a regional inter-club competition. And who knows, maybe this additional prospect will encourage the AFC committee to make the “right” decision on November 24th.
Photo: Christopher KL Lau (22 April 2016 – for offside.hk)