'Super cup' to choose second AFC entrant
The Hong Kong Football Association is planning a new knockout tournament designed to enhance the qualification process for the AFC Cup, the only regional cup competition Hong Kong clubs can participate in.
The Super Cup is scheduled to kick off at the end of next season and will feature four teams - including the winners of the two cups (the Senior Shield and the FA Cup) and the teams that finish second and third in the league. The league winners qualify automatically for the AFC Cup.
The winners of a two-day knockout tournament comprising three matches will represent Hong Kong in the AFC Cup the following year, along with the league champions.
In the event either of the cup winners are also first or second runners-up in the league, the Super Cup slot will be filled by the team who finishes fourth or even fifth in the league table. Losing cup finalists will not be allowed to participate.
According to AFC rules, the two AFC Cup representatives should be the champions of the top domestic league and a knockout competition. In the event that the league champions are also cup champions, the place should be given to the league runners-up.
In the case of Hong Kong, the Senior Shield champions have always been given AFC Cup priority, followed by the winners of the FA Cup, then the League Cup. If all four champions, including the league winners, are the same club, the second AFC Cup place is traditionally awarded to the league's first runners-up. This happened in the 2004/05 season when Sun Hei clinched a clean sweep of all domestic titles and Happy Valley won the place as runners-up.
Under the proposed new format, the League Cup will be removed from next season's fixtures, with the league and Super Cup winners becoming the two AFC Cup representatives.
'We hope this new format can create more excitement in domestic soccer, especially when the long season approaches its end,' said an HKFA source. 'More importantly, it can keep the teams working hard throughout the season. While the top honour still goes to the league champions, the leading positions in the league will also be hotly contested, with the incentive of playing in the new tournament and the hope of an AFC Cup berth. A domestic tournament of this quality should be a big attraction to the fans.'
The official said the new tournament would not affect fixtures as it would only account for two playing days at the completion of the FA Cup, normally the last event of the season.
The HKFA would not comment officially, saying the plans were still under discussion, but small clubs said the new format would make it harder for them to qualify for the AFC Cup. 'Under the current system, if we can upset the powerhouses only in the Senior Shield, we are through to the AFC Cup, but in future we will be given more hurdles,' said one club owner. 'The HFKA should make thorough consultation before implementation.'
Last season, Citizen surprisingly held off South China in the Shield final after winning the penalty shoot-out to qualify for the AFC Cup, while Sun Hei did the same in February, upsetting the Caroliners on penalties to win the second berth in the regional tournament next season.