Premiership trio launch Asia Cup
Premiership clubs Newcastle, Chelsea and Birmingham are to compete in the inaugural FA Premier League Asia Cup this summer.
The four-team tournament, which will also feature the Malaysian national team, will take place in Kuala Lumpur from July 24-27 and is the first and only competition sanctioned by the FA Premier League outside England.
The competition - officially launched prior to today's Barclaycard Premiership clash between Newcastle and Chelsea - takes place just three weeks before the start of the 2003-2004 season, and the three English teams will use the games as a crucial part of their pre-season plans.
All three clubs will be sending full-strength sides to Malaysia, and the event will be officiated by members of the FA Premier League's Select Group of referees.
Magpies boss Sir Bobby Robson said: 'While we are thrilled to be among the teams coming out for this first-ever tournament, we are going to Malaysia to win the tournament - for fans in Asia as well as those back home in Newcastle.'
Striker Alan Shearer added: 'It is going to be a great match-up in Malaysia. We are excited to be invited and we are looking to be winners of the inaugural cup.'
Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri has also set his sights on making history by becoming the first-ever winners.
Ranieri said: 'We consider every official match and every victory important - whether they are matches played in the UK or abroad.
'This is certainly no friendly match - our goal is to win this tournament, and to win in convincing fashion.'
Birmingham boss Steve Bruce added: 'While this is a good pre-season warm-up for us, I am confident the players will put up a strong performance.'
The three clubs were picked through a selection process endorsed by the FA Premier League and the clubs.
On an agreed date, one team was selected from positions one to five in the league table, one team from positions six to 10 and one from positions 11-20.
Selected teams will revolve each year ensuring that all teams participate in the tournament.
FA Premier League chairman Dave Richards added: 'Over the years, the appetite for English Premier League football in Asia has become very strong and we want to deliver the best possible competition to them.
'This event falls within our overall plans to further build the following for the League as well as for all of our clubs within the League.
'We are sure this event will become part of the Premier League calendar of football - giving our fans in Asia the chance to see our teams and their best players compete with each other.'
The Malaysian national team are currently managed by Alan Harris, brother and team-mate of Chelsea legend Ron `Chopper' Harris, and former assistant manager to current Leeds boss Terry Venables from his first spell with Crystal Palace.
Harris said: 'We have a young side, but the team are no strangers to playing world class international teams who have visited Malaysia in the past year.
'We are preparing hard for this tournament and intend to make sure we do Malaysian fans proud.'
Birmingham take on Newcastle in the opening match on July 24, with Chelsea meeting Malaysia the following day.
The winners of each match then go into the final on Sunday, July 27, with the third/fourth place play-off taking place the previous day.