East Asian nations prepare for South Africa

Defending champions Korea Republic and arch-rivals Japan see the men's edition of the East Asian football championships in Tokyo as vital preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in June.

The hosts and South Korea will try out home-based players at the four-team round robin, which kicks off on Saturday when Japan, three-time runners-up, play the 2005 champions China. Korea Republic take on little-fancied Hong Kong on Sunday, but Korean coach Huh 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," Huh 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. I want to improve the team's ability one rank or even half a rank, looking forward to the World Cup."

At South Africa 2010, Korea Republic 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 2010 FIFA World Cup.

"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 Korea DPR, 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 Korea Republic take on China and Chinese Taipei. "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."