Potential 'giant killers' to join expanded FA Cup
HKFA hopes to spice up tournament with inclusion of four Junior Shield semi-finalists
The Hong Kong Football Association will introduce potential "giant killers" this season to add excitement to the FA Cup, which will be expanded to a 16-team tournament.
In a bid to boost youth development and make the FA Cup more exciting, the HKFA has taken the ambitious step of including the four semi-finalists from the Junior Shield competition to the 12 teams in the RedMR First Division for the knockout tournament later this season.
"We hope there will be some giant-killing feats," said Mark Sutcliffe, HKFA chief executive. "We need to make the FA Cup more interesting and the presence of these youth teams will go a long way to achieve that. Just imagine what a story it will be if one of them beats a senior team."
There will be no age restrictions on the four youth teams, however.
Sutcliffe said: "At the moment it is the same teams competing against each other in the League, Senior Shield and FA Cup. I think people get fed up watching the same teams all the time. Also we want to encourage 'junior' teams."
Further down the line, the HKFA is also toying with the idea of expanding the FA Cup to include other clubs in Hong Kong also taking part in the preliminary stages before joining the big boys in the latter stages.
In England, clubs from all the divisions get a chance to play in the FA Cup, which has contributed to the romanticism of the tournament whenever one of the smaller, unheralded clubs do a David-and-Goliath act on one of the big-spending sides.
"Possibly there could be room for the FA Cup to be expanded even more and include other clubs in Hong Kong," Sutcliffe said.
This move to add spice to the FA Cup will be welcomed as in recent years the tournament has lost a little of is lustre with some of the bigger clubs preferring to rest their key players for league encounters. Winning the league carries more weight as the champion team automatically qualifies for the AFC Cup, the region's second-tier club competition.
"Sponsorship details are currently being worked out, but winning the FA Cup will result in a cash prize as well as entry into the end-of-season play-offs [the Super Cup]," Sutcliffe added.
The Super Cup was introduced last season to decide the second team to qualify for the AFC Cup. It will comprise the winners of the FA Cup and Senior Shield as well as the second and third-placed teams in the league in a knockout-style play-off.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong national squad will travel to Guangzhou for a training camp on Thursday and then play a friendly against Guangzhou R&F club as preparation for next week's Asian Cup qualifier against the United Arab Emirates.