Japan’s the team to beat in Tokyo

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Japan’s the team to beat in Tokyo

Korea will attempt to defend its East Asian football title over its rivals starting this weekend in Tokyo.

The East Asian Football Championship runs from tomorrow through Feb. 14, and will feature Korea, China, Japan and Hong Kong.

To most Korean football fans, the Lunar New Year’s Day showdown between Korea and Japan will be the crucial match. Managers Huh Jung-moo and Takeshi Okada will renew their rivalry at the round-robin tourney after the two sides played to a 1-1 draw at the 2008 EAFC tourney. According to the latest world rankings from FIFA, the international football federation, at 40, Japan is the top-ranked club in the tourney with Korea 49th, China 87th and Hong Kong ranked 137th in the world.

The rankings indicate the battle that may be ahead. Korea won the tourney in 2002 and 2008, while China won the 2005 event. Japan will be vying for its first East Asian title on its home field.

Another notable point of interest for football fans is that the upcoming tourney will be the last opportunity for domestic and J-League based players to earn a spot on the final 23-man Korean national team roster.

“The March 3 friendly match against Cote d’Ivoire will feature our final 23-roster members for the World Cup,” Huh had stated last month.

Lee Dong-gook, the 2009 K-League scoring leader and veteran forward, and Ahn Jung-hwan are still under consideration.

Lee cannot afford to have a mediocre game if he wants to make the final cut. One good piece of news for Huh is that Lee Keun-ho will participate in the tourney, and that should give him a chance to evaluate his teamwork with some of the hopefuls for the forward position.

Korea will face Hong Kong on Sunday, China on Wednesday and Japan on Feb. 14. All matches will take place at 7:15 p.m.

Korea also booked another international friendly match for May 16.

The Ecuadorean Football Federation stated on its Web site that Ecuador, ranked 35th in the world, and Korea will square off in a friendly match on that date. The match will be Korea’s final friendly match on home soil leading up to the World Cup.

Korea will then travel to Japan for a May 24 friendly match.

By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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