Tue, Jun 19, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Shao Jiayi talks up China's prospects for the Asian Cup

AFP , SINGAPORE

Bundesliga star Shao Jiayi has downplayed China's embarrassing performances in the lead-up to the Asian Cup, insisting the team is capable of reaching the last four.

In the past month China, runners-up as hosts at the Asian Cup in 2004, have lost to Thailand before stumbling to two defeats against Major League Soccer clubs on a tour of the US.

They enjoyed a brief reprieve after beating Colorado Rapids 2-1 but the knives are out for the team and coach Zhu Guanghu.

Shao though says it has been a learning experience and they will bounce back.

"Losing in pre-tournament friendlies is not necessarily a bad thing," the Energie Cottbus midfielder told the Asian Football Confederation Web site.

"It helps us find out more about our problems and we can correct these before we play in real matches. I don't think our form in these friendlies is any indication of what lies ahead," he said.

"We didn't really focus on the final result but tested our full strength in attacking and tried to find out our first 11. That is the purpose of friendly matches," he said.

Despite the lackluster warm-up, Shao, 27, believes China will be in the running for a semi-final berth, along with Australia, Japan, South Korea and Iran.

He said the squad was much stronger than the one beaten by Japan in the final three years ago.

"There have been very few changes in the team though some players like Hao Haidong, Li Ming and Li Xiaopeng have retired," he said. "But most of the other elite players from the Asian Cup 2004 are still in the current national squad and this is very good. I personally believe this [squad] is stronger than the previous one."

China are grouped with Iran, Uzbekistan and co-hosts Malaysia and Shao knows it will be tough getting through the group stages.

"There is no doubt that Iran are one of the best teams in Asia. Their fast, strong, physical and skilful playing style makes them our top group opponents," he said.

"Iran also have three Bundesliga players in their ranks and their international experience gives them an added advantage," Shao said.

"West Asian countries will be the main force in this edition, but I personally think China, South Korea, Japan, Iran and Australia are favorites to reach the semi-finals," he said.

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