Hong Kong will be without their two best strikers - the controversial Chan Siu-ki and red tape-bound Godfred Karikari - when they attempt to build a winning ethos in an international friendly against Singapore on Friday.
Chan withdrew from the Hong Kong team last week 'for personal reasons' after his contract with South China was terminated prematurely. Karikari, who obtained a Hong Kong passport in March, is still awaiting clearance from Ghana authorities.
Hong Kong coach Ernie Merrick said he was perplexed why Chan was not on the team list for the game at Hong Kong Stadium.
Details of Chan's personal life were splashed across newspapers this month and South China boss Steven Lo Kit-sing said the striker would not be part of his plans for next season.
'He is the team's highest goalscorer and scored three goals in our last match against Taiwan,' Merrick said. 'I don't understand why the best striker is not available when we all want to see him play for Hong Kong. He is difficult to replace.
'I am not sure how this situation has occurred during an international Fifa window day but as a coach I have to manage it.
'I always remain optimistic and positive and am working on other options because we have a longer preparation period this time.'
The Hong Kong Football Association only recently asked Ghana authorities for proof Karikari had not played for their senior national side.
Although the 27-year-old joined the rest of the Hong Kong squad for training at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground yesterday, he is still waiting for documents that would clear the way for his Hong Kong debut.
'We need an international clearance from the Ghana Football Association to prove Karikari has not played for Ghana at senior level,' said Merrick. 'It's unlikely he has, as he left his country at the age of four and has been playing here for the past seven years. But still we need that clearance and are working very hard to get Ghana to deliver it. But if that doesn't come through, we have to look at other options.'
Karikari, who scored 11 goals for Pegasus this season, said: 'I don't think I can make it in time, it's very unlikely. The HKFA has asked me to help push the Ghana Football Association, but I know the process takes some time. I just hope for the best.'
Karikari was named in the 20-member squad announced yesterday, but young striker James Ha and midfielder Ngan Lok-fung (both of Kitchee) are candidates to replace him.
Merrick said he was impressed by Sun Hei's Leung Tsz-chun, who scored four goals during a training game, and would not be afraid to blood young players such as Ha and Sham Shui Po's Lau Cheuk-hin.
The coach said they would continue to play attacking soccer after their 5-1 victory over Taiwan in his first match in charge.
'It is important to instil a winning ethos and mentality into the team,' he said. 'We will continue to play an aggressive game and take it to our opponents. Counter-attacking is not our style.'
Hong Kong are ranked 161st in the world, three places below Singapore.