Caretaker coach Kim Pan-gon is out to prove he deserves a long-term deal as Hong Kong take on Guam in the opening match of the East Asian Cup qualifiers at Mong Kok Stadium today.
Although the Korean, who replaced Ernie Merrick in October, has been given until July next year, Hong Kong's performance in the five-nation tournament, which also includes Australia, North Korea and Taiwan, will play an important role in decisions over his future.
Hong Kong will also face Uzbekistan and Vietnam in Asian Cup qualifiers early next year before scheduling another home-and-away friendly in June.
A source close to the Hong Kong Football Association said yesterday that officals would not undergo another global recruitment search for the head coach's job, if Kim can prove himself and the government, who pay Kim's salary under Project Phoenix, had no objections.
Kim had a bright start when his team returned from Kuala Lumpur with a 1-1 draw against Malaysia last month, shortly after a 3-0 home defeat to the same squad in the two-leg international. The defeat by the Malaysians was one of the catalysts for the early departure of Merrick.
Kim yesterday played down questions about his future, saying he was focused solely on this tournament.
"I don't want to talk about my future and will take my responsibility as the head coach until the end of my period," Kim said.
"I will do my best to develop the Hong Kong team during this period and it is up to the authoritiesto make the decision over my future. I want to bring Hong Kong soccer pride and lead my boys to fight for the citizens of Hong Kong."
HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said the coach's job was always under scrutiny, but Kim would be given sufficient time to build his team.
Kim has most of the best Hong Kong players available for the tournament, including two key centre halves, Lee Chi-ho and skipper Chan Wai-ho, who both missed the 3-0 defeat to the Malaysians.
Chan played in the first East Asian Cup qualifying tournament in 2003 and has not missed any of the four subsequent versions.
The coach also has striker Chan Siu-ki back in action. He scored four goals against the Pacific Islanders when the two teams met at the same tournament in Taiwan three years ago.
Youngster Lam Hok-hei, who scored the equaliser against Malaysia in their last match, will also be given the opportunity up front alongside the speedy Jaimes McKee.
Today's other match features Taiwan against North Korea, who are without their two players from the J.League, An Yong-hak and Ryang Yong-gi.
Meanwhile, the Australians, who are making their debut in the qualifiers, but are widely considered favourites, arrived last night with a young squad, headed by former Blackburn Rovers midfielder Brett Emerton, who now plays for Sydney FC.
Only six players in the squad have more than five caps, with eight in line to make their international debut.
Coach Holger Osieck said they would use the tournament to test the next generation.Topics: Kim Pan-Gon Ernie Merrick Hong Kong Football Association East Asian Cup