Hong Kong could find itself playing in soccer's Asian Cup in Australia next January by default after it emerged that preliminary group opponents, the United Arab Emirates, apparently fielded an ineligible player in the two games against the city.
A letter sent by a fan to the Hong Kong Football Association and copied to the South China Morning Post yesterday has raised the possibility that star midfielder Omar Abdul Rahman, 22, did not meet the residency requirements needed to be eligible to play for the UAE.
The letter stated: “This player became a UAE citizen only on September 2008, which makes him ineligible to represent UAE based on the Fifa law made at the Fifa Congress in 2008 in Australia, which states clearly that a player has to reside in the country he wishes to represent for not less than five years, and after the age of 18 years, to be able to change his nationality. Which in this case, the player has not.”
Top HKFA official Mark Sutcliffe admitted that seemed to be the case at first glance with Omar, who trialled for Manchester City last season, apparently having not lived there for the requisite period after turning 18.
“We have received this letter and we are looking into this matter,” said Sutcliffe, the HKFA chief executive, last night. “At first glance, it looks as if there might be a case to pursue this further and we might take up this matter with the Asian Football Confederation or Fifa if it warrants further investigation.”
“To be able to represent UAE, he needed to be born there, which he wasn’t, or have lived there for five years after the age of 18, which he doesn’t seem to have done. Unless he has parents or grandparents born in the UAE, it looks as if he was not eligible to play. We will have to further investigate this.”
The UAE currently top the qualifying pool E and have booked their berth in the 2015 Asian Cup finals. They defeated Hong Kong 4-0 at Hong Kong Stadium on October 15 and a month later won by a same scoreline in the return tie in Abu Dhabi. Both results could be overturned and Hong Kong given 3-0 victories if it is proved that the Emiratis had fielded an ineligible player.
“We don’t want to go down this road and benefit on others’ misfortunes but, at the same time, if they have flouted the rules of the competition and international football, it is only right that they be penalised,” Sutcliffe said.
Hong Kong still has one pool game left against Vietnam in Hanoi on March 5 and will need a resounding win to keep alive hopes of being the best third-placed side in the 20-team qualifiers and make it to their first Asian Cup final since 1968.
“We are lying third in our pool, but if UAE was found to have flouted the rules, we could end up being second in the pool and qualify automatically,” Sutcliffe said.