Hong Kong land North Korea in horror 2019 Asian Cup qualifying draw

Coach Kim Pan-gon says his side’s group, which also features Malaysia and Lebanon, is possibly the toughest of all

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 10:56pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 10:56pm

Hong Kong landed possibly the worst draw of any team in the qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup and will have to take on North Korea, the nation that coach Kim Pan-gon wanted to avoid.

At last night’s official draw in Abu Dhabi, the two teams, which last clashed in the East Asian Football Championships second round in Hong Kong in November, were pooled together in group B, which also features Malaysia and Lebanon.

The Koreans beat Hong Kong 1-0 in the match before making it to the final of the East Asian event that included regional heavyweights South Korea, Japan and China.

North Korea were in pot one of the draw while Hong Kong were in the second tier.

A total of 24 teams were divided into four levels in the qualifiers in accordance with their latest Fifa rankings.

The top two teams from each of the six groups will reach the finals in the United Arab Emirates in two years.

“This is possibly the most tough group we are getting, especially North Korea and Lebanon,” said Kim. “Our target is to finish the group in second position and hopefully we can challenge the top team of the group.

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“The qualifiers will take one year to finish and we need faith from the players to get focused.”

Kim said the first two games would be crucial – they travel to Lebanon before playing host to North Korea – as they need at least two points from both games.

Twenty-four teams will contest the Asian Cup after the Asian Football Confederation expanded the tournament from 16 teams in Australia in 2015.

The 12 teams competing in the third round of Asian zone qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia have already qualified for the event.