Coming to a stadium near you: Hong Kong champions Eastern set for AFC Champions League place
An improved Member Association ranking means the city is set to be rewarded with a place in the group stage of Asia’s top club competition for the first time next year
Newly crowned Premier League champions Eastern look set to become the first Hong Kong team to compete in the AFC Champions League group stage, partly as a result of improved performances by local clubs and the national team.
The latest AFC Member Association (MA) ranking reveal Hong Kong have leapfrogged Vietnam to become the sixth-best team in East Asia, meaning the city will get one slot in the group stage and one in the play-offs for the 2017 competition.
Eastern therefore stand the chance to play against regional heavyweights such as Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai SIPG, Sydney FC and FC Seoul in the group stage.
Clubs from West Asia will not meet East Asia teams until the final.
The Hong Kong champions have been given until the end of June to comply with AFC technical requirements and Eastern executive director Peter Leung Shou-chi was confident of meeting the specifications.
Leung said they had plans to use the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium for AFC Champions League, with the compact Mong Kok Stadium kept for domestic matches.
“We have submitted all the required documents before the deadline and there shouldn’t be any problem [obtaining the licence],” said the seasoned administrator.
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“We have to thank the Hong Kong Football Association for their expertise as the application requires a lot of input in the technical areas. Their support has helped speed up the process.
“The AFC will not announce the 2017 Champions League competition format until later this year but we are confident of a place in the main round following fellow clubs’ performance in regional competitions and the contribution of the Hong Kong representative team.”
Previously only South China and Kitchee have obtained the licence for the region’s top tier competition, but since the MA ranking was not good enough, both clubs had to start in the play-offs and were eliminated and never reached the group stage.
Hong Kong are 15th out of 46 AFC members in the MA ranking with 36.617 points while Vietnam are one place behind with 34.197 points. South Korea top the rankings with 96.294 points.
The ranking is made up of club points and national team points and Vietnam’s two clubs are already out of the AFC Champions League this season, while South China are still playing in the AFC Cup and will clash in the quarter-finals with Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia in September.
And both Hong Kong and Vietnam are out of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the 2019 Asian Cup qualification will not start until next year, this means Vietnam will find it difficult to overtake Hong Kong before the AFC announce the 2017 AFC Champions League format.
Hong Kong were in 20th place when the AFC revamped the regional competition in 2014, with the MA ranking system taking into consideration their members’ performances since 2012.
With South China and Kitchee both doing well in the AFC Cup and the Hong Kong representative team making good progress on the international stage, the MA ranking has greatly improved.