Hong Kong coach Tsang Wai-chung holds hopes of making it into the Asian zone group stage of the 2014 World Cup qualifying round despite a tough draw against regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia.
'The Saudis were once the top team in the region but not anymore,' said Tsang, who will act as caretaker coach from tomorrow before a new team manager is named. The Hong Kong FA is looking overseas.
'Their players have good individual skills, but they seldom work as a team like South Korea and Japan.
'Hong Kong are improving on the international stage, as seen from the 2009 East Asian Games and the Asian Games in Guangzhou last year. If our defence can hold them off, we definitely have a chance of beating them with our quick and effective counter-attacks,' he said.
The draw for the first and second rounds of the qualifiers were made yesterday at the Asian Football Confederation headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. Both Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia were exempted from the opening round because of their records in 2010 qualifying.
The Middle East nation missed out on a fifth consecutive finals appearance at the 2010 World Cup after losing the AFC play-off to neighbours Bahrain, while Hong Kong were eliminated 3-0 on aggregate by Turkmenistan in the second round.
The Saudis admitted they had little knowledge of Hong Kong. 'We are not familiar with Hong Kong,' said their Olympic team manager, Wajdi Al-Taweel, who attended the draw. 'Of course, our target is to qualify for the World Cup.'
The 16 lowest ranked teams were paired against each other in the first round, with the eight winners advancing to round two where they join the other 22 teams for the home-and-away matches on July 23 and July 28 respectively.
The 15 winners from the second round will then join the top five direct entrants (Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Australia and Bahrain) in the third round where they will be divided into five groups of four teams each.
The draw also set up a number of intriguing ties in the second round, which pits Uzbekistan in a central Asian derby against neighbours Kyrgyzstan while Malaysia could square off with arch-rivals Singapore if the reigning Asean champions can overcome first round opponents Taiwan.
China, who have appeared at only one World Cup (2002), will take on the winners of the first-round match between Cambodia and Laos, while three-time Asian champions Iran will play the Maldives, who they hammered 26-0 over two legs in the 1998 World Cup qualifiers.
The qualifying draw for the 2012 London Olympics was also made yesterday with Hong Kong, who defeated Maldives 7-0 on aggregate in the first round, to play Uzbekistan.
'We beat them 1-0 in the group stages at the Guangzhou Asian Games and we are not afraid of them,' Tsang said of the Uzbeks.