Wed, Nov 17, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Mighty China in battle to stave off shock elimination

AFP , HONG KONG AND GUANGZHOU

Members of the Chinese media crowd the room during a press conference yesterday by China national team coach Arie Haan in Guangzhou.

PHOTO: AFP

A row over possible match-fixing has cast a shadow over today's last round of first phase Asian qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup, which will see mighty China battling to stave off a shock elimination.

With four of the eight places in the final round already won and with South Korea, Bahrain and Iran almost certain to claim their berths today, all eyes are on the ferocious scrap in Group Four between China and Kuwait.

The Kuwaitis, level with China on 12 points but leading the Asian Cup runners-up by a goal difference of plus two, are in pole position to win the group as they take on winless Malaysia in Kuwait City.

A win for the group leaders will mean that to qualify, China must beat neighbors Hong Kong by a margin that is at least two or more goals greater than Kuwait's victory against the Malaysians.

Elimination for China, who made their first ever appearance at a World Cup in the 2002 finals, would be viewed as a disaster by the country's officialdom.

Today's nail-biting finale has been overshadowed by a war of words that was triggered by a leading Chinese newspaper that urged the country's football officials to put pressure on Hong Kong to throw the match.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) responded swiftly, with general secretary Peter Velappan warning that China's game with Hong Kong would be watched closely for any hint of "funny business."

Both China's match in the southern city of Guangzhou, just across the border from Hong Kong, and Kuwait's tie with Malaysia will kick off at the same time to prevent either side from gaining an advantage.

Japan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Uzbekistan have already qualified.

Police alert

Police in Guangzhou are preparing for possible riots during the crunch qualifier between China and Hong Kong.

Drums, banners, binoculars, bottles, backpacks and bags have been banned from the Tianhe Stadium, the New Express reported.

"The Guangzhou police have also warned the football fans to remain civilized, to refrain under all circumstances from creating disturbances on the field or in the stand and to not let dissatisfaction over the results of the match lead to incidents," the paper said.

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