Hong Kong joint coach Tsang Wai-chung relishes the prospect of trying to qualify for next year's inaugural East Asian Championship in Japan. Tsang said yesterday it would give the local game a 'major boost' if they clinched the only spot in February's qualifying tournament at the Hong Kong Stadium. The winners will join the exalted company of World Cup finalists China, Japan and South Korea in the four-team East Asian Championship. 'We're not expected to beat the three Asian powerhouses. But it would help lure back the fans if we could join them in the finals,' said Tsang, who was appointed joint national coach with Lai Sun-cheung after Hong Kong were selected last week to stage the February 23 to March 2 qualifiers. Hong Kong FA general secretary Martin Lam Chun-ying added: 'We're ambitious in our bid to make it to the finals. If we qualify, it'll symbolise that the standard of our national team is improving and that we're closing the gap with China, Japan and South Korea.' Tsang's and Lam's optimism came in view of the fact that their main rivals will be North Korea. Hong Kong, ranked 149th in the FIFA rankings, and North Korea, who are ranked 20 places higher, have been seeded in the six-team qualifiers and will each lead a group of three teams. Taiwan (165th), Macau (186th), Mongolia (190th) and Guam (200th) are the other entrants. The group winners will battle it out for the only qualification spot for the finals where the three World Cup teams have gained direct entries. Tsang said home advantage and a committed preparation would be the keys to their chances of seeing off North Korea, who edged the SAR 2-1 at September's Pusan Asian Games. 'As we all saw in Pusan, North Korea weren't too much stronger than us. Only three over-23 players were allowed at the Asian Games, but we will be able to field more experienced players this time around. And home advantage is always important. 'Our Asian Games squad played well in Pusan because they began training well in advance and the effect was there for all to see on Tuesday when those young players helped Buler Rangers beat South China 2-0 and take the lead in the league,' Tsang said. The 20-plus training squad will be picked in two weeks and will soon start training for a series of international tournaments, including the East Asian Championship, March's Asian Cup preliminary rounds and September's Olympic qualifiers. Tsang continued: 'There is no shortcut to building understanding between players. It's good that these players will be able to stay together for a few months, although we need to fit the training time into our packed league schedule.' They will also have match practices in the Guangdong-Hong Kong Interport Cup on January 5 and the Lunar New Year Carlsberg Cup. Lam said the FA did not need to dig into its own pocket for hosting the East Asian Championship qualifiers as the East Asian Football Federation, founded last May, would bear the US$450,000 budget. The winning team in the qualifiers will also collect U$50,000, while the finals, to be held later next year in Japan, will carry a top prize of US$400,000.