A BITTER row has erupted between Hongkong's two leading clubs, South China and Eastern, on the eve of the Viceroy Cup final - and split the national squad just five weeks before the World Cup qualifying campaign. Fallen champions South China have withdrawn all five of their players from the 22-strong squad and yesterday the Caroliners' team boss, Steven Lo Kit-sing, resigned as an assistant team manager of the national side. South China's move may result in disciplinary action from the Hongkong Football Association, who will discuss the matter at their next council meeting. Hongkong, who play their first round of World Cup qualifying matches in Beirut, Lebanon, from May 7-15, picked a 22-strong squad but this is down to 17 after the withdrawals of South China captain Chan Ping-on and teammates Chu Yue-tai, Leslie Santos, Chiu Chung-man and Shum Kwok-pui. Of those, only sweeper Chan is injured. He fractured his left arm during the Viceroy Cup semi-final against Instant-Dict on Tuesday and is expected to be out for a month. South China official Bruce Mok said last night: ''Now the Hongkong team is controlled by Eastern people and South China are a big club in Hongkong and our leader, Steven Lo, is not so happy about that. ''He is resigning as assistant team manager and maybe the Hongkong coach, Wong Man-wai, may also resign before the World Cup and not after, as planned. ''Some of the players have pulled out because of injury. Chan Ping-on has an arm injury, Santos and Chu Yue-tai have been carrying injuries for a long time and Chiu Chung-man and Shum Kwok-pui have followed the other players of South China.'' The national squad team manager is Eastern chairman Lam Kin-ming and the squad includes eight members of the Eastern team who have put together a 19-game unbeaten run since the start of the season. Lam is in Taiwan on business but Eastern team manager Peter Leung said: ''We have got the most players in the squad because we are the best team this season. ''I remember a few years ago South China had 14 players in the national squad but now South China are going down. ''I do not think you can say Eastern are in charge because the coach is from South China.'' Another twist in the tale is that Leung is to resign as assistant to the team manager, Lam, but Leung said: ''At the moment we only want to think about Sunday's final.'' A fierce rivalry has built up between the two sides this season as Eastern have taken over from South China as the dominant force in Hongkong football. Eastern beat the Caroliners 5-0 on the opening day of the league season and followed up with a 4-0 victory in the Camelpaint Challenge Shield final in December. The last time the two sides met, in the return league game on February 14, honours ended even in a 1-1 draw. Their fourth clash will be at the Hongkong Stadium tomorrow in the big match of the season - the Viceroy Cup final. A spokesman for the Hongkong FA, Miranda Yu, said South China could face disciplinary action because of the withdrawal of their players. ''We have to look into the matter because the Hongkong team players have to support the Hongkong FA,'' said Yu. ''Unless the players are injured, there is no other excuse to pull out of the squad. We will refer the documents from South China to the team managers and to the FA council and they will decide what to do. ''We will have to see if the managers accept the reasons for the players' withdrawals - they may require medical certificates.'' The eight Eastern players in the squad are defenders Chan Chi-keung, Cheung Kam-wa, Chiu Chun-ming, Lo Kai-wah, Yeung Kin-keung and Lee Wai-man and midfielders Tam Siu-wai and Lee Kin-wo. Of these eight, only five are guaranteed a place in Eastern's starting line-up for tomorrow's Viceroy Cup final - sweeper Chiu, right-back Lo, left-back Lee Wai-man, right-winger and captain Lee Kin-wo and midfielder Tam. Such is the competition for places the other three will probably start on the substitutes' bench. South China boss Lo sent a fax to the FA yesterday stating ''personal reasons'' behind his resignation as assistant team manager, although it is understood he may be prepared to return in the future. On the team front, South China look set to replace injured sweeper Chan with veteran Koo Kam-fai for tomorrow's final. Their new signing, Billy Whitehurst, is struggling to make the starting line-up because of a groin strain.