Hats off to the Hong Kong Football Association. Wanting to qualify for the 2034 Fifa World Cup is a bold goal but it’s more dream than reality. It’s up there with China’s ambitions to qualify, host and win a World Cup by 2050 and if the expected happens and China is host of 2034 then Hong Kong might have an easier path to qualifying. An extra Asian place being up for grabs and lord knows how many teams as the competition keeps expanding are going to help with that. The 2034 World Cup is the goal of the HK2034 Project but if they can’t make that then the 2038 World Cup will do. Already there are moving goalposts and backup plans as if disappointment is inevitable. The project was among the new measures announced as the HKFA’s five strategic goals. The others are an ever-improving representative team; a professional league with stable teams; football for all and increased participation; and financial sustainability and good governance of the association. Let’s start with the positives. Things have improved in recent years with the governance of the FA and that should be applauded. This has been done with financial backing from the government and the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and that needs to continue for progress to continue to be made. Hong Kong can become Asian football powerhouse in 15 to 20 years and qualify for 2034 World Cup, says new strategic plan The Hong Kong Premier League has also professionalised within that new framework although the stability of the teams still leaves something to be desired. This will continue to be the case until there is wider investment in the league and its clubs. Now the bad news. The representative team is not necessarily improving. In the last 12 months it has gone from the positive of qualifying for a first East Asia Football Federation E-1 Football Championships to leaving those finals without a point or a goal. For comparison, that was the same as the last time that Hong Kong played in the competition back in 2010. That’s no progress against East Asia’s best nations – Japan, South Korea and China in a decade. Yes, there were those famous 0-0 draws with China during the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers but the defeat to the Chinese team in December was essentially a B team, the same with South Korea, while a full-strength Hong Kong team lost most heavily to a Japan team largely made up from the under-23 side who will contest the Tokyo Olympics. Mission impossible as Hong Kong dream of reaching 2034 World Cup football finals Even taking just the last 12 months into account for Hong Kong, they tasted a first defeat to Taiwan, which came in Mixu Paatelainen’s first game in charge after replacing Gary White. The same Taiwan side went on to lose World Cup qualifiers 7-1 to Australia, 9-0 to Kuwait and 5-0 to Jordan before sacking coach Louis Lancaster. Hong Kong lost 2-1 to them on a wet night in Mong Kok. Between then and the trip to Busan for the EAFF, Hong Kong have played five World Cup qualifiers. Their solitary win came against Cambodia at Hong Kong Stadium, with a 1-1 draw between the teams in Phnom Penh kicking off their campaigns. Hong Kong’s other point was at home to Bahrain, with losses to Iran and Iraq. Results are unlikely to change greatly in the remaining qualifiers: a trip to Tehran in late March before hosting Iraq then finishing up with a visit to Bahrain in June. One point from the nine on offer would be realistic, two would be ambitious. This is no one’s fault. Football is the poor relation in the Hong Kong sports scene. While rugby cannot move for corporate support and the stacks of cash that the Sevens brings in, the world game struggles in our world city. Aside from the reliance on the money from the government and Jockey Club, which has stretched to the HKJC Training Centre in Tseung Kwan O to finally give the team a home base, there are other issues that need to be dealt with for the five point plan to come to fruition. Hong Kong’s representative team is truly representative of Hong Kong, made up of locally born Chinese players and the naturalised footballers from around the world that have called the city home for seven years. There is no special treatment for footballers like in other countries, even China now as they look to realise their own World Cup dreams. To play for Hong Kong you have to do your seven years to get Permanent Residency then you are eligible. Same as for everyone else. That is fair but it is also a hindrance as most of the naturalised footballers that are eligible for selection for the representative team are the wrong side of 30 – and in some cases the wrong side of 35. Unless the rules are altered this won’t change until Hong Kong is a destination for 18 and 19-year-old footballers who stay and play before becoming eligible. Chinese national anthem booed and human chain formed at Hong Kong v Iran World Cup soccer qualifier as protests enter the sporting arena And then there’s the elephant in the room. It’s long been argued that the Jockey Club opening up the market on the HKPL would generate the interest needed to drive the game on. It would also deal with the equally-long held suspicions around certain match results lower down the pyramid. Football fans shouldn’t hold their breath for that or a World Cup.