S.Korea, Japan to use East Asian soccer contest as World Cup yardstick

2010-02-05 10:00

TOKYO – Defending champions South Korea and archrivals Japan see

the men’s edition of the East Asian football championships in Tokyo as vital

preparation for the World Cup in June.

The hosts and South Korea will try out home-based players at the

four-team round robin, which kicks off tomorrow when Japan, three-time

runners-up, play the 2005 champions China.

South Korea take on little-fancied Hong Kong on Sunday, but South

Korean coach Hoo Jung-Moo will not be taking the game – or the tournament –

lightly.

“We want to get off to a very good start looking forward to the

World Cup,” Hoo said. “Although we miss the Europe-based players, we want to put

on a good performance and take home the title.”

“The World Cup will definitely be on our minds when we play.”

Japan will also be without the services of Europe-based players led

by influential Espanyol midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura and CSKA Moscow’s Keisuke

Honda.

But Japan coach Takeshi Okada said that would not matter.

“I want to try several patterns of our attacking tactics. I also

have some ideas towards the World Cup,” he said.

“We must win the championship because it’s a home competition and

Japan have never won the title before,” he said. “I want to improve the team’s

ability one rank or even half a rank, looking forward to the World Cup.”

At the World Cup finals in South Africa, South Korea will play

Argentina, Nigeria and Greece in Group B.

Japan face the Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark in Group E.

For China it will be a chance to save some face after again failing

to qualify for the World Cup, while the sport is mired in controversy and

allegations of match-fixing back home.

“We took part in the championship many times but I’ve never been

satisfied with our performances. We hope for the best result – that is to win

the tournament,” said China coach Gao Hongbo.

It is the first time Hong Kong have reached the finals of the East

Asian tournament, inaugurated in 2003, having beaten North Korea, Taiwan and

Guam in the last qualifying round.

Hong Kong’s confidence is high after they beat a young Japan side

on penalties to take the gold medal in December at the East Asian Games on home

soil.

“We want to improve the team. Our goal is to finish with five

points. We will play hard to reach that goal,” said Hong Kong’s South Korean

coach Kim Pan-Gon.

In the women’s four-team tournament, defending champions Japan and

2005 winners South Korea take on China and Taiwan.

Taiwan, runners-up in the qualifying round, replaced North Korea

after the communist country pulled out because of a visa problem.

“We will face excellent teams,” said Japan coach Norio Sasaki. “We

will have the Asian Cup in May, which is a qualifying round for the Women’s

World Cup in Germany. So I really want to win the title to build up the team.”


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