Beijing awaits Asia Cup final

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> China and Japan both held training sessions on Thursday ahead of their eagerly awaited Asia Cup final on Saturday.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:08 IST
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China and Japan both held training sessions on Thursday ahead of their eagerly awaited Asia Cup final on Saturday. Both camps were keen to play down the political tensions off the pitch due to the strained relations between the two countries. It's a dream billing for an Asian Cup final - hosts China prepare to take on arch rivals and defending champions Japan in front of a huge crowd at the Beijing Worker's Stadium on Saturday. China is still basking in the glory of reaching an Asian Cup final after a break of twenty years. China have defeated Japan just twice in their last ten meetings, with Japan prevailing 3-2 at the last Asian Cup in 2000 and 2-0 in their most recent match last year. Now, with their first Asian Cup within their grasp, China's players are finally shedding the inferiority complex that paralysed teams of the past. "We have gone through a long way to reach the current stage and the condition of our team has reached its best point. In the face of this most crucial game, I think all my team mates, except a couple who are injured, have been very well prepared," said Zheng Zhi, a Chinese defender. However, the game has been overshadowed slightly by political tension between the two nations. Chinese fans have booed Japan throughout the tournament in an expression of continuing Chinese resentment over Japan's brutal World War II occupation of their country. But even the players hope that the final will kick off in a much more friendly atmosphere. "I hope the fans in Beijing will encourage both of the two teams with the warmest and politest attitude. Of course as the fans of the host country they will definitely support only us but I believe the fans will be able to create an ideal atmosphere for the game," said Zheng Zhi, a Chinese defender. With narrow wins over lesser teams like Bahrain and Jordan, the defending champions Japan have hardly looked a champion side in this tournament. Japan's players are exhausted but reportedly injury-free, meaning Brazilian-born coach Zico should have his pick of the squad led by inspirational captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto that battled from behind with just 10 men to beat Bahrain 4-3 in extra time on Tuesday. Japan took part in the tournament resting many of their star players. Hidetoshi Nakata, who plays in Serie A in Italy, and other Europe-based players like Shinji Ono and Junichi Inamoto are missing from the line up. In their absence, Yuji Nakazawa, with three goals in the tournament, has been inspirational. His last minute diving header, also the equaliser, in normal time against Bahrain kept Japan alive in the match. "I think they're a very good team, and they're not playing bad football, so we have to play very carefully," said Yuji Nakazawa, a Japanese player. Like his Chinese counterparts, Nakazawa is not too bothered about the atmosphere surrounding the game. "It's not a matter for us to be worried about, we are here to play sport, and it's got no relation to us," says Yuji Nakazawa, a Japanese player. Japan won the tournament in 1992 and 2000, while China's best finishes were third place in 1976 and 1992. (AP)

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