PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 July, 2003, 12:00am

The development of Hong Kong football has suffered a major blow with the decision of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to organise their qualifying tournaments on a regional basis. Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) chief technical consultant Kwok Ka-ming criticised the new format, which means Hong Kong will always be drawn with one of the East Asian superpowers.

'It makes sure all the top teams go through to the final, but it's no good,' Kwok said. 'It's no good for teams like China either. Scoring 15 goals against Guam is not good preparation. I don't know why they've done this again. We've no chance against Japan, Korea and China.'

The shift in policy has resulted in Hong Kong being placed in the same qualifying group as China and Guam for the 2004 AFC U-20 Championship and with South Korea and Guam for the U-17 competition. The change comes at a time when it had seemed the AFC had listened to the complaints of its members who were unhappy with the structure of the qualifying competitions because it made the best nations play unnecessary matches against the minnows of Asia.

Kwok, who represented the HKFA at last week's meetings in Kuala Lumpur where the decisions were made, also criticised the process by which the format was ratified.

'They'd already made their minds up. There was no thorough discussion. It was all decided in advance,' he complained, echoing the growing rumblings of discontent with the autocratic style of Qatar's Mohammad bin Hammam, who took over the presidency of the AFC a year ago.