Wed, Mar 01, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Big guns take a breather from Asian Cup


Qualifying for the 2007 Asian Cup takes a backseat for the region's heavyweights today who instead focus on their build-up to the World Cup.

Nine Asian Cup qualifying matches are being played, but Germany-bound teams are not taking part.

Instead, they will use the night to bond as part of their preparations for the World Cup and will play their Asian qualifying legs at a later date.

Asian champions Japan recalled eight of their Europe-based stars, including Hidetoshi Nakata, Junichi Inamoto and Shunsuke Nakamura, for a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Germany.

Coach Zico, who used a young side in the 6-0 Asian Cup thrashing of India last week, said it was important to have his best players in the squad with so few chances left to gel ahead of the World Cup.

"It will be one of only the few FIFA international A match days before the World Cup so I decided to leave some [young] players behind," he said.

Meanwhile South Korea, fresh from their 2-1 win against Syria last week, take on World Cup debutants Angola in Seoul, while Iran play host to Costa Rica.

Iran had been due to play Ukraine, but their opponents pulled out saying the flight to Tehran was too long. The cancellation was viewed by Iranian papers as a political move, related to the Islamic republic's woes with the outside world.

Saudi Arabia meet Portugal in Germany, and will have their work cut out against a team led by Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo from Inter Milan.

Asia's fifth World Cup hope, Australia, are holding a training camp in the Netherlands.

For Asian Cup teams, the pressure is on. The campaign has already claimed two scalps with the coaches of Bahrain and Oman being fired after their teams lost last week, to United Arab Emirates and Australia respectively.

The plum tie today sees China, beaten finalists on home soil in 2004, meet West Asian Games champions Iraq in neutral United Arab Emirates.

An inspired performance by Manchester United hopeful Dong Fangzhou and goals from Du Wei and Li Weifeng saw China edge past the Palestinians 2-0 in their opening Group E match.

China has strengthened its side by calling up the Europe-based duo of Shao Jiayi and Shi Jun and coach Zhu Guanghu is no mood for excuses.

"No way we will lose," he said.

Singapore are in chilly Jordan for their Group E match against the Palestinians while India are looking to regain some credibility against Yemen.

Taiwan take on Syria while Bangladesh try their luck against Hong Kong. Pakistan versus United Arab Emirates and a heavyweight clash between Qatar and Uzbekistan round out today's matches.

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