HONG KONG were handed probably the most difficult path possible to World Cup glory when they were pitted against South Korea and Thailand in Asian Group Six. The two-leg qualifying round for the three teams will be held in 1997 - probably during the first six months of the year. Although Hong Kong are likely to have the services of Eastern striker Dale Tempest, who becomes eligible by residency next summer, the current national players are tipping South Korea to win the group. Tempest, who first came to the territory to play for South China six years ago, said he intended to end his career by playing in the World Cup. 'I really want to stay in Hong Kong as long as possible,' said the Englishman who turns 32 later this month. 'And I would like to represent Hong Kong in the World Cup qualifying round if I am still fit and selected. 'I will return to the territory, no matter which club I will play for next season and finish my degree course on sports management in December, 1996. 'The handover of Hong Kong in 1997 does not bother me much. I will decide what I will do - whether to stay in Hong Kong or go back to England - at the end of next season.' Tempest, whose contract with struggling champions Eastern expires at the end of this season, is confident of earning a place in Hong Kong's World Cup squad. 'I am a centre forward and centre forwards are the kind of players Hong Kong miss most locally,' he said. National coach Koo Luam Khen said there would be more choices for the national squad in the World Cup matches with Tempest available. 'We have a lack of good local players. One of the reasons is that there have been too many expatriates playing in the league all these years. It is time for the Hong Kong Football Association to do something, like better youth development programmes or cutting down the number of expats. 'Everybody else has been improving tremendously but it seems that Hong Kong is stuck.' South China right-winger Lee Kin-wo, who is looking forward to his third World Cup qualifiers since 1989, said Hong Kong were good enough to beat Thailand. 'The standards of the Southeast Asian countries are very close,' said the 28-year-old Lee. 'The most outstanding sides in Asia are South Korea, Japan and China. Besides, we beat Thailand 2-0 in the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima and I can see the standard of Thailand soccer has declined.' Lee believes the current squad could achieve good results, even if they failed to qualify. The current national players, including Lee and his teammates Shum Kwok-pui, Au Wai-lun, Golden midfielders Lo Kai-wah and Chiu Chung-man, Uhlsport-Rangers goalkeeper Chung Ho-yin, defender Chan Chi-keung, Wong Wai-tak, were in the last World Cup qualifying round in 1993.