KUALA LUMPUR: The inaugural FA Premier League (FAPL) Asia Cup tournament featuring Newcastle, Chelsea, Birmingham and Malaysia gets underway today with the English teams still struggling to come to terms with the Malaysian heat and humidity.
Favourites Newcastle and Birmingham will play the opening match tonight, which kicks off at 8.45 at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil here.
Malaysia take on Chelsea tomorrow. The winners of the two matches will play in the final on Sunday while the losers will play off for third place on Saturday.
Newcastle and Birmingham hope their players will be able to cope with the heat and humidity to get a positive result in the pre-season tournament, which will be broadcast live to an estimated 225 million viewers in 27 countries.
Birmingham manager Steve Bruce highlighted the team's predicament at a press conference yesterday, saying his squad of 22 players had lost a combined 56kg in weight.
“One player shed eight pounds (3.5kg) ... it shows how difficult it is for us here,” said Bruce, adding that his team trained in difficult conditions yesterday when temperatures rose to 30°C with 70% humidity.
Skipper Jeff Kenna chipped in: “The trouble we have really is the humidity and you just can't get your breath ... it's very difficult to get oxygen into your lungs.”
Bruce made it clear that he will not have a marker on Newcastle skipper Alan Shearer in his 4-4-2 line-up.
“I won't have a marker on Alan. We don't play man-to-man marking,” said the former Manchester United skipper.
He revealed that Welsh international, midfielder Robbie Savage, is a doubtful starter for tonight's match. Savage had his first training session yesterday but Bruce said: “I won't take a risk.”
Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson echoed the problems about the heat and humidity.
“Today (yesterday) was the warmest day since the team arrived here on Monday.
“It was much hotter, warmer and humid, which made training difficult. Several players had a poor night,” said Robson.
“We have got to soldier on. We got to get used to the time clock.
“It is the same with the other teams from the cooler European climate. It will be the reverse when we return home.”
Robson added that controversial new signing Lee Bowyer has a good chance to start the match.
“However, I will only name my team tomorrow (today). I have 22 good players to pick my team,” he said.
Shearer, who was also at the press conference, said: “It is hard work. We have to get fit first and then try to win the tournament.
“I must admit that the hot and humid conditions have made things a lot tougher here.”