Fri, Jul 30, 2004 - Page 23 News List

China prepares to clash with Iraq in Asian Cup action

AP , BEIJING

Iraq's former coach Bernd Stange predicts the Middle Eastern squad will "create more surprises" in the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup, saying he's proud of the team's performance in the competition so far.

But Bora Milutinovic, who led China to its only World Cup finals in 2002, said his old team is on track to triumph in Asia's premier soccer tournament for the first time in history.

The two men were speaking ahead of Friday's quarterfinal match between China and Iraq.

Although China has always been considered one of the favorites to win the Cup, the Iraqi squad has impressed as one of the best sides in the 16-nation tournament, despite its lack of training difficulties caused by the country's disastrous security situation.

"My heart is still with the Iraqis. I am very proud of their performance in qualifying for the quarterfinals," Stange said in a telephone interview from his home in Jena, Germany. He also praised current coach Adnan Hamad as the best man to lead the team to victory.

"Why not? They now have the same chance to create more surprises as Greece in Euro2004," said Stange, who was forced to resign from his job in May after receiving death threats in Iraq.

But Milutinovic, who resigned as China's coach after the World Cup two years ago, but remains immensely popular in the nation, said he expected China to go through to the semifinals.

Milutinovic was replaced by Dutch-born Arie Haan at the helm of the Chinese team.

"It will be difficult against Iraq, but China will win," said Milutinovic who is visiting Beijing. "The standard of play in this championship has not been exceptional, and China has a good chance of winning the title."

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