Rees targets South Korea in Asian Five Nations as a 'must-win' match
There will be no room for a false start when Hong Kong take on South Korea in their opening game of this year's HSBC Asian Five Nations tier-one competition, head coach Dai Rees has warned.
'This will be a massive game for us. We have to target this as a must-win game if we are to have any chances of finishing in the top two and keep alive our World Cup hopes,' Rees said.
The schedule for the five-team tournament - it will also double up as the Asian zone qualifying event for the 2011 World Cup - sees Hong Kong facing a tough opener at home on April 24 against the feisty Koreans, who were dethroned as the No 2 side in the region by Kazakhstan last year. The other teams in the home-or-away tournament are defending champions Japan, outright favourites to win the automatic berth given to Asia for next year's World Cup in New Zealand, and the newly promoted Arabian Gulf.
Hong Kong's second game will be away to the Arabian Gulf in Bahrain on April 30, then hosting Kazakhstan at the Hong Kong Football Club on May 8, and finally playing away to Japan in Tokyo on May 22.
The target for Rees and Hong Kong will be to still be in contention on May 22 for the repechage spot at the World Cup given to the runners-up in the Asian Five Nations.
'To be realistic Japan are the outright favourites to win the championship and grab the Asian berth at the World Cup,' Rees said. 'Our aim will be to finish second and make it through to the repechage.'
The second-placed Asian team will take on Uruguay in the repechage - hosted by the country which has the highest IRB world ranking at the time - and the winners will then go on to play home-and-away against the winners of another play-off between teams from Europe and Africa.
Despite the tough opener, Rees was happy with the schedule, which will see Hong Kong play the two toughest opponents - other than Japan - at home. 'It suits us that South Korea and Kazakhstan will be coming to Hong Kong, and be out of their comfort zone. Both teams are dangerous, and in fact there will be no easy games in the competition,' Rees said.
An extended squad, comprising both the seniors as well as those players on the fringes and in the Hong Kong 'A' squad, have been formed and will be in training soon now that the domestic season is all but over.