Friday, March 19, 2010

So much for the afterglow...

No sooner has Hong Kong football started to earn some praise and improve its profile than the city's clubs shoot themselves in the foot in the AFC Cup.

The second half of last year was impressive on many levels for Hong Kong, from the national team knocking World Cup-bound DPR Korea out of the East Asian Championship through to South China reaching the semifinals of the AFC Cup and the national side's gold medal win at the East Asian Games.

The disappointing results at the East Asian Championship in Japan in February were to be expected, but there were at least a number of positives, not least the performance of several younger, inexperienced players who were given a chance to perform by coach Kim Pan-gon.

But since then, things have taken a turn for the worse. Perhaps it's too early to be too critical, but the results achieved so far by Hong Kong clubs in the AFC Cup have been poor. South China are staring at elimination already with a draw and a loss in two games - they're going to need to pick up three wins in their next four games to have any realistic hope of going through.

Tai Po, Hong Kong's other representative in the competition, are in a similar position, sitting at the bottom of Group H with a solitary point.

All this comes at a time when the Hong Kong government has announced plans to back the further improvement of the game in the city, with proposals including a new professional league and a vastly improved youth development structure. Included in the proposal is a new training centre, which the Hong Kong Jockey Club has suggested it is prepared to fund.

The goals are to enhance Hong Kong's standing on the FIFA Rankings list, moving them into the top 120 in the next two years before eventually moving in to the Top 80 in the next decade. Possibilities remain, too, for Hong Kong to field a team within China's professional league set-up.

There's a very real chance that Hong Kong football is starting to move in the right direction after years of poor management by the Hong Kong Football Association and government ambivalence. Let's hope South China and Tai Po can pick up their performances to ensure none of the momentum gained in the last nine months is lost.

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