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Soccer: Zhu Calls up Europe-based Players for Asian Qualifier
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China's tie with Iraq takes center stage in today's Asian Cup qualifying matches, while the region's top teams concentrate on their World Cup preparations.

Asian champion Japan held Bosnia to a 2-2 draw in a friendly in Dortmund yesterday while Saudi Arabia is also in Germany for what will be a stiff test against Portugal.

Naohiro Takahara and Hidetoshi Nakata were on target for Japan while Zvjezdan Misimovic and Emir Spahic scored for Bosnia.

South Korea faces first-time World Cup qualifiers Angola in Seoul with Iran at home to Costa Rica.

Australia, which qualified for the World Cup while representing Oceania but has since joined the Asian Football Confederation, is training in the Netherlands.

With the top sides given permission to postpone their scheduled 2007 Asian Cup qualifiers, the Group E clash between Iraq and China is the pick of nine remaining ties.

All five of Asia's World Cup qualifiers won their opening matches last week.

China, whose failure to qualify for the World Cup caused shockwaves throughout the region, beat Palestine 2-0 in their opening game in Guangzhou last week.

Iraq was upset 0-2 away in Singapore and can ill afford another defeat against 2004 Asian Cup runner-up China on neutral territory in the United Arab Emirates.

China is equally determined and coach Zhu Guanghu has promised victory in Al Ain after calling up Europe-based players Shao Jiayi and Shi Jun.

"There is no way we will lose," Zhu said.

There have already been two coaching casualties after just one round of Asian Cup qualifiers with Bahrain's Luka Peruzovic and Oman's Srecko Juricic axed after losing starts.

Bahrain was beaten 1-3 by Australia last week while Oman lost its Group C opener away to the Emirates.

Both sides will be anxious to bounce back with Bahrain travelling to Kuwait in Group D and Oman at home to Group C leader Jordan.

The 2007 Asian Cup finals will be co-hosted by Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Elsewhere in the region, South Korea coach Dick Advocaat said yesterday form was the only factor in picking his squad for the World Cup finals in Germany.

Speaking ahead of a World Cup warm-up game against Angola today, Advocaat said players would have to perform consistently well at club level to assure themselves a ticket to Germany this summer.

"We always say that the coach doesn't make the lineup, players make the lineup. If a player shows the quality, he will play," he said. "Our strategy is not about players or about individuals. It's about team."

South Korea has been drawn in Group G with France, Togo and Switzerland.

Advocaat's squad of 24 for the Angola match includes several Europe-based players such as Park Ji-sung of Manchester United and Lee Young-pyo of Tottenham.

But it does not include fan favorite Ahn Jung-hwan, who scored some key goals when South Korea reached the semifinals on home soil in 2002.

(Shanghai Daily March 1, 2006)

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