Friday, July 06, 2007

Asian Cup confident to handle weather and tickets

With a cyclonic storm lashing parts of Vietnam just days before the kickoff on Saturday and much of the region entering the monsoon season, the prospect of rain affecting Asian Cup matches concerned Asian Football Confederation President Mohamed bin Hammam on the eve of the tournament opener. The weather "is the one thing beyond our control. It's definitely a concern for us,. We have to hope and pray it is OK," he said, adding there are contingencies to postpone matches if conditions get too bad. "We're not going to risk the health of the players," he told Associated Press.

Bin Hammam, however, said the AFC is "now we're very satisfied" with the organisation in the four host countries. "I admit in the beginning we were having doubts about how it would work. But everybody has accepted the challenge and reached a level to meet the expectations of the AFC and the fans of Asia."

And while the tournament has also been criticised for low ticket sales and for failing to generate local excitement, he said he was encouraged by the more than 30,000 seats sold in advance for the opening match. "The figures I have are very good," Bin Hammam said, explaining that it was typical in the region for fans to wait until match day to buy tickets rather than purchase in advance. "I'm sure you'll witness a full stadium tomorrow and on July 29 (in Jakarta), regardless of who is in the final."

Australia, which made the second round at the last World Cup before being knocked-out by eventual champion Italy with a last-minute goal, has close to a full strength team and is among the favorites to claim the title. The Australians quit the Oceania Football Confederation at the start of last year and Bin Hammam said "it was the best move we ever took" to accept Australia into Asia. With the likes of English Premier League stars Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, "Australia has already impacted the competition, adding some necessary flavor," he said.

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