Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Asian Cup round meets World Cup preparations

Nine qualifying matches for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup are being played this Wednesday but Asia's five FIFA World Cup-bound teams are not taking part. Instead, AFP reports, they will use the night "to bond" and will play their Asian qualifying legs at a later date.

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

South Korea, fresh from their 2-1 win against Syria last week, take on World Cup debutants Angola in Seoul, Saudi Arabia meet Portugal in Germany while Australia is holding a training camp in Holland.

Iran plays host to Costa Rica. They were originally 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".

The Asian Cup 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 on Wednesday sees China, beaten finalists on home soil in 2004, meet West Asian Games champions Iraq in neutral United Arab Emirates. 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 completes the round.

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