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By ESPN Staff

Thai, Malay playing concerns despite progress

MELBOURNE, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Thailand and Malaysia's preparations for hosting next year's Asian Cup are on target but the strength of the two countries' national teams remains a concern, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said.

The AFC's Asian Cup Organising Committee said it was now satisfied with progress made by Thailand and Malaysia ahead of the July 7-29 tournament which will also be hosted by Indonesia and Vietnam.

The AFC had threatened to strip Thailand of its hosting status after a delegation in October expressed concern about playing surfaces, floodlights and facilities at some of the tournament venues.

But AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam said he had received assurances from the Thai government about its commitment to the 2007 Cup and a specific budget for renovations.

'We have received a letter of support from Thailand's new Minister of Tourism and Sport, Dr Suvit Yodmani, and we also had a fruitful meeting with the relevant Malaysian ministries who are integral to the success of this competition,' he told the AFC Web site.

'I am glad to report that the federations are responding to the AFC requests for more speed. Malaysia and Thailand are on the right track now.'

The AFC, however, cautioned the two nations about the importance of strong host sides challenging for the title next year.

'Host teams are crucial to the success of this Asian Cup and the federations must pay more attention to their preparations,' AFC vice-president Zhang Jilong said.