Eastern coach Chan Yuen-ting has the opportunity to become the first female coach in the AFC Champions League (ACL) after her club were surprisingly reinstated in the competition on Monday amid a farcical battle among three teams for eligibility.
At a Hong Kong Football Association board meeting on Monday, members agreed that Eastern and Kitchee would represent the city in the 2017 tournament, only seven days after applications were put forward by the association on behalf of Kitchee and a third club, Southern.
The decision was prompted by a new ruling by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in which future Member Association rankings will depend solely on performances in AFC club competitions.
Previously, club performances accounted for 70 per cent of the ranking with the national team’s results making up the rest.
The news came as a double celebration for Chan, who was also named in the BBC’s 100 top women list for 2016 on Monday. Chan became the first female coach in the world to win a top tier league championship when Eastern were crowned 2016 Hong Kong Premier League champions.
“We will go for a training camp in Thailand next month if it turns out that the AFC allows us to play in the Champions League,” said Chan. “We will also consider getting some of our on-loan players back from other clubs because we need our strongest possible squad.
“The Champions League has the strongest teams in Asia and we are not getting our hopes too high in our debut appearance.”
Eastern must still wait until the AFC confirms the line-up for the 2017 Champions League on November 24.
“We have to wait to see if the AFC will accept the change of team by the HKFA before we can confirm our place in the Champions League,” said Eastern executive director Peter Leung Shou-chi. “Of course, it’s always our ambition to play in the regional top tier club competition and both the management and the players are prepared.”
Previously, Eastern had pulled out of the ACL and Kitchee were slated to replace them with Southern taking part in the qualifying competition. However, AFC rules came to light that Kitchee were ineligible to replace Eastern in the main draw and must remain the qualifiers, with Southern left out altogether.
“If we had kept the same entries, only Kitchee will be allowed to start and only then in the qualifying play-off,” said a board member. “If we enter Eastern and Kitchee, there will be two teams from Hong Kong in the 2017 competition rather than one.”
Both Kitchee and Southern had said they would take action if there was found to be an administrative blunder in initially allowing the two clubs entry into the competition.
The HKFA said in a statement: “Once the outcome of the [AFC] ommittee decision is known, the HKFA will meet with the two clubs affected and work with them to minimise any issues that this situation may create.”