Hong Kong will have to endure three arduous trips to the Middle East if they want to progress in the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers after Wednesday's draw at the Asian Football Confederation headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
Mixu Paatelainen's men have been drawn in group C with Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Cambodia, who they face first up on September 5.
Being in pot 4 of the draw, conducted by retired Australian star Tim Cahill, Hong Kong were always going to find themselves up against tough opposition.
While Hong Kong should be beating the likes of Cambodia; Bahrain, Iraq and Asian powerhouses Iran are difficult assignments, especially away from home.
"It is what it is," said Paatelainen. "When you look at the teams, Iran is the top team in pot 1 and Iraq is the top team in pot 2. Those matches will be very, very tough and Cambodia also won' t be easy.
"But I'm excited. We will go and try our best with fighting spirit and see how it goes. When you get to these kinds of draws, you are always going to be up against the best teams and it will be a good experience for us."
The top teams in each of the eight groups, along with the best four runners-up, will advance to the final round of World Cup qualifying while also sealing their places in the 2023 Asian Cup in China.
The remaining teams will compete in another competition to fill the last 12 positions in the Asian Cup.
China are placed in group A with Syria, Philippines, Maldives and Guam while defending Asian champions Qatar are in group E with Bangladesh, Oman, India and Afghanistan. Although Qatar qualify for the World Cup as hosts, they still need to go through the Asian Cup qualifying process.
For Paatelainen, the main problem is gathering his players for training before their first match. He will only have three days with the players in the lead-up to the Cambodia game.
"It's unfortunate that I can't have the squad together because of various club commitments," he said. "The training window is very small and that makes it even more difficult. I will only have three days just before our first match.
"The good thing is that the players would have had at least one round of matches in the local league so they will be somewhat match fit."
In the previous World Cup qualifiers, Hong Kong drew 0-0 twice with China in two highly charged matches but failed to reach the next round, while the mainlanders managed to squeak through to the final phase of qualifying.
China will be favourites to secure first place with Syria posing the biggest test.
Saudi Arabia will play in group D against Uzbekistan, Palestine, Yemen and Singapore while Australia face Jordan, Taiwan, Kuwait and Nepal.
The mostly Malaysian crowd at AFC House drew gasps of disbelief during the draw for group G, which is effectively an Asean qualifier with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam joined by United Arab Emirates.
Asian heavyweights Japan will be confident of winning group F against Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Myanmar and Mongolia while their arch-rivals South Korea must make the politically sensitive trip up north to face North Korea in group H, which also features Lebanon, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka.
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