All parties concerned are losers in the recent AFC Champions League eligibility fiasco as professional soccer is very much immature in Hong Kong, accused Premier League club Southern. The district team was left out of the top-tier regional club competition – despite being invited by the Football Association to represent Hong Kong in the 2017 tournament – after Eastern and Kitchee had their participation confirmed on Wednesday night. The Asian Football Confederation said that champions Eastern would take part in the main round of the competition while runners-up Kitchee will start in the second round of qualifying play-offs with a home game against Hanoi T&T of Vietnam in January. The winners of the match will meet Jeju United FC of South Korea for a spot in the main round. The official draw will be made next week. Southern, who had been busy preparing for their debut appearance in AFC club competition since August after being invited to replace Eastern, are nowhere to be seen. “The whole saga is a joke,” said Southern chairman Chan Man-chun. “It proves how immature our so called ‘professional soccer’ is. I am sure nobody is gaining any benefit in the incident but in return the image and reputation of Hong Kong soccer has been severely tarnished. The Football Association secretariat, Kitchee and Eastern are to be blamed to a certain extent while Southern just look like a fool in the process. Hong Kong’s Champions League debut in doubt with AFC set to block Kitchee’s bid to replace Premier League winners Eastern “The soccer community is still under the control of some heavyweights while a small club like Southern have little influence. No wonder so many people have lost interest in local soccer over the past decade.” Chan, however, refused to say if the fiasco would affect his interest in the Premier League, but said the next thing he must do is provide the club sponsors with an explanation. “It’s too early to say (if the club will continue next season),” he said. “If we can overcome the unhappy sentiment, we may, but in meantime I must explain the situation to the club sponsors as they have been so keen to see us represented in the regional tournament.” The saga began in July when Eastern withdrew their participation in the regional tournament citing financial difficulties. Although the champions reversed their decision five days later and indicated their willingness to rejoin, the Football Association turned them down, instead putting Kitchee in their spot and inviting Southern to be the second team from Hong Kong. Eastern ‘ready to return’ to AFC Champions League as Kitchee attack Hong Kong FA chief for ‘blunder’ in eligibility fiasco However, it was discovered last month that Eastern’s spot could not be replaced and if they withdrew, their spot would go to another nation while Kitchee would remain as the second team from Hong Kong. The Football Association then changed their nomination back to Eastern and Kitchee and were accepted by the AFC. Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin then called for an arbitration tribunal to determine if any individual was guilty of administrative flaws and for them to take the responsibility.