Next Asian Cup to be held one year early

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> The next Asian Cup will be held one year early - in 2007 - so the competition does not clash with other major sports events, including the Olympics.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:06 IST
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The next Asian Cup will be held one year early - in 2007 - so the competition does not clash with other major sports events, including the Olympics, the Asian Football Confederation said today. "For a long time we have been very concerned about the Asian Cup happening at the same year as the (European Cup), the Olympics and other international events," Peter Velappan, the confederation's general secretary, said at a press conference. "This will ensure that the media... will focus entirely on the Asian Cup." Four-year cycle The Asian Cup, the premier soccer competition in Asia, will revert to its four-year cycle after 2007, Velappan said. This summer's tournament will be hosted by China. Stadiums at Chongqing, Beijing, Chengdu and Jinan have either been constructed or upgraded and are ready for this year's matches, which begin July 17, he said. A month ago, an AFC inspection team said the completion of new stadiums at Chongqing and Chengdu - both in western China - had been "doubtful", Velappan said, but local organisers came through. He did not elaborate. "The final preparation demonstrated very clearly that if the Chinese people want to do it, they can do it," Velappan said. "I'm really convinced ... that China will welcome the Asian teams, China will welcome the Asian football family and China will be the showcase for the world." This year's competition will feature the largest-ever number of teams - 16 - since the first in Asian Cup was held 1956. The AFC will also celebrate its 50th anniversary during the 2004 competition. Defending champion Japan will share Group D with past winner Iran in the initial stage, while China will face Qatar in Group A. Saudi Arabia, another favourite, shares Group C with Iraq, along with Uzebekistan and Turkmenistan. Rising Asian power South Korea has been pooled with Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan in Group B. The final will be held on August 7. Warm up For the Chinese organisers, the championship is an important warm-up for the 2008 Olympics, also to be held in Beijing. "The Olympic games... are coming to Beijing in four years time and the Asian Cup will be the first step on how China can manage such spectacular football events," Velappan said. Prices for Asian Cup tickets will range between 50 yuan (US$6) to 2,000 yuan (US$242) for opening and closing night events, said Zhang Julong, the AFC's vice president. The AFC expects the tournament to be "the best attended" the confederation's history, Velappan said, with some 200,000 spectators are expected in Chongqing and Chengdu, and about 250,000 expected in Jinan. (AP)