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Sep 5, 2006

Japan, South Korea looking to regroup in Asian Cup

Kuala Lumpur, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Japan and South Korea will be hoping to get their Asian Cup 2007 qualifying campaigns back on track on Wednesday after stumbling performances over the weekend.

With Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates all able to book their places at next year's finals should results go their way, the pressure is on the two 2002 World Cup hosts to perform.

Champions Japan suffered a 1-0 defeat to Group A leaders Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on Sunday and face another tricky test away to Yemen on Wednesday.

The Koreans, meanwhile, were held to a 1-1 draw in Seoul by fellow World Cup finalists Iran in Group B on Saturday. They resume on Wednesday with what is expected to be an easy match at home against winless Chinese Taipei.

Japanese coach Ivica Osim took a 24-strong squad to the Middle East, minus any European-based players, and will have to rely on the same names against Yemen in Sana'a.

Yemen are third in the group with three points from three matches while second-placed Japan have six points. Osim's side would progress with a victory after the 2-0 win over the Yemenis in Niigata last month gave them the head-to-head edge.

The Saudis, who face winless India at home, lead the table with nine points and can seal their place in next year's finals if they can overcome the Indians and Yemen fail to beat Japan.

Despite their draw with Iran, Korea still lead Group B with seven points from three games, two ahead of Iran with Syria third on four points.

The Koreans will be without their World Cup striker Lee Chun-soo, who has a thigh injury.

The crucial match in this group is Iran's away clash with Syria, who stunned the Iranians last month when they came away from Tehran with a 1-1 draw.

In Group F, Qatar can book their place in the finals with victory at home to Bangladesh while Uzbekistan and Hong Kong battle for the second qualifying place.

Iraq and China will be aiming to strengthen their positions in Group E. Both teams are on six points with Iraq taking on Palestine in UAE and China travelling to Singapore.

The United Arab Emirates can also qualify from Group C when they host Jordan while second-placed Oman face Pakistan.

Kuwait are at home to Australia, who have already qualified from Group D, which is down to three teams, including Bahrain, after Lebanon pulled out.

The top two teams from each of the six preliminary groups qualify for next year's finals, which are jointly hosted by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

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