The Asian Football Confederation will most likely ban Kitchee from getting a direct group stage spot in the Asian Champions League next year.
After Eastern had faced serious troubles over financial matters this summer, they decided to withdraw from the AFC competitions, prompting the HKFA to give the spots to Kitchee and Southern instead. It would have been the first time that a club from Hong Kong could have entered the group stage of the Champions League directly, given the solid performances in the AFC Cup in recent years. However, as a spokesperson confirmed , the AFC rules would actually not allow this scenario, as this prestigious spot is reserved for the “winner of the national top division league”.
At the moment, it seems there are two possible scenarios. If the HKFA can alter their application, they could still nominate Eastern. After securing new sponsorship from the Chinese Long Lions group, the reigning champions were willing to take the ACL spot back, but both HKFA and Kitchee refused to change the previous decision. In this case, Eastern should still be eligible to play in the ACL, while Kitchee could enter the qualifying round. This also means that Southern would lose their chance to participate.
However, the other – more likely – scenario is that the HKFA cannot change the nomination. In this case, the AFC will most likely bar Kitchee from getting the direct group stage spot – which would then be given to another country, such as Australia. Kitchee and Southern would then enter the ACL qualifiers at an earlier stage, with a very small chance to enter the group stage. That would be a major blow for local football.
In a few days, Mark Sutcliffe, Chief Executive of the HKFA, will meet AFC officials in South Korea, where he hopes to clarify the situation. Offside.hk will keep you updated about future developments.