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Kitchee attack Hong Kong FA chief for ‘blunder’ as row over Champions League eligibility descends into farce

Premier League club Kitchee lashed out at Hong Kong Football Association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe for their failure to be allowed into the 2017 AFC Champions League main draw.

After last season’s champions Eastern pulled out of the Champions League, Kitchee – who as runners-up were only in the qualifying playoffs – were put forward by the HKFA for the main draw place.

But the AFC confirmed to the Post on Thursday that their rules would not allow Kitchee to take Eastern’s place, and they would have to remain in the qualifying competition.

Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin claimed on Friday that Sutcliffe had been informed about the rules by the AFC in October but the clubs involved never knew nothing about this.

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“We would have had ample time to reverse the board’s decision to replace Eastern by Kitchee if we knew the AFC’s concerns long ago,” said Ng.

“Sutcliffe has to take the responsibility for his administrative blunder as the clubs involved have been left with no idea what to do.

“This makes Hong Kong soccer an embarrassment and we will report the case to the board.”

In July, Eastern said they would withdraw from the tournament due to financial difficulties (although they changed their mind five days later).

Sutcliffe said he would not be commenting.

Kitchee can still start in the Champions League qualifying playoff second round at home on January 31, but that date clashes with the annual Lunar New Year Cup – of which Kitchee are hosts.

Hong Kong’s slot in the group stage is now set to go to another club from a country ranked higher than Hong Kong.

According to the AFC rules, if an eligible club who refuses to enter the competition, despite being licensed and meeting the sporting criteria, the slot allocated to its member association shall be annulled, regardless of whether it is a direct slot or playoff slot.