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|Thursday, October 12, 2000, updated at 13:57(GMT+8)|
Saudi Arab, Japan Lead Duels in Asian CupSaudi Arab make their mind to keep the Asian Cup trophy in the West Asia, but the defending champions are facing big challenges from Japan and other East Asian opponents.
The confrontation of the West and East Asia is always the affair of the Asian Cup, which starts on Thursday. With next year's World Cup qualifying round in sight, the rivalry could be more fierce than ever this time in Lebanon.
Playing with their symbolic body games, the West Asian teams --Saudi Arab, the United Emirates Arab, Iran and Kuwait -- breezed into the last four in 1996 and the title went to the more delegate Saudi Arabians.
Saudi Arab, who are seeking for a record four-time championship in the most prestigious continental soccer tournament, are bracketed with the much-improved Japan in Group C in the first round.
They could take a revenge of their 1-0 loss in the final to Japan in 1992, when teams from the East Asia won the Cup for the first time since South Korea won consecutive titles in 1956 and 1960.
But they will face the possible best-ever Japanese team, who have impressed the world with a series of good results in the internationals.
Japan's youth national team won the World Youth Cup last year, and they were one of the favorites to enter the final in the Sydney Olympic Games last month though they fell short in the preliminary round.
Japan, who will co-host the 2002 World Cup finals with South Korea, were put into the corner by the disappointment in the Olympics. Nothing but the championship could satisfy the furied fans.
The game in Saida on October 14 between the two teams could be a rematch of the final of the 1992 edition of the competition, while Qatar face Uzbekistan in the other group game later on Saturday.
Arch-rivals South Korea and China will also meet in the opening game in the preliminary round on Friday with Kuwait against Indonesia in the Group B.
The hosts Lebanon will face Iran and Iraq take on Thailand in Group A on Thursday.
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