BEIJING: Asian football chief Peter Velappan has dismissed fears that the absence of several star players will take the shine off the continent's showpiece tournament, the Asian Cup.
Several of the leading contenders for the prestigious 16-team tournament – Asia's equivalent of the European Championships or Copa America – will head to China missing key players.
A string of stars, including Japan's two-time Asian footballer of the year Hidetoshi Nakata, are injured while some nations have rested players in order to include them in squads for August's Athens Olympics.
But Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general-secretary Velappan is adamant that the tournament, which kicks off in Beijing on Saturday, will not suffer because of the absentees.
“AFC has noted that some key players in many teams competing in the Asian Cup China 2004 will not be able to make it to China for reasons of injury or participation in the Olympic Athens football tournament,” Velappan said.
“We are not too concerned as it is a tremendous opportunity for other players to participate in the Asian Cup and in most cases this players play a more important role in the team than the established players,” said Velappan.
He said the recently concluded Euro 2004 tournament – which saw underdogs Greece shred the form book to win – was proof that stars did not make the tournament.
“Euro 2004 has shown that the teams with the famous players did not succeed in making an impact in the tournament,” Velappan said.
Nakata and Fulham midfielder Junichi Inamoto, who suffered a broken leg in a friendly against England last month, head the list of stars ruled out by injury.
But several other absentees have been self-inflicted by nations that have attached equal importance to the Olympics, poaching players from their Asian Cup squads to bolster their Under-23 teams for Athens.
The Japanese, who face Iran, Thailand and Oman in the first round, have weakened their squad by insisting that Feyenoord's Shinji Ono and SV Hamburg's Naohiro Takahara play in Greece.
South Korea have followed suit. Yoo Sang-chul and midfielder Song Chong-gug, both veterans of the Koreans' 2002 World Cup campaign when they reached the semi-finals, will both play in Athens.
Uzbekistan, who face 2000 runners-up Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Turkmenistan in Group C, are also missing Russian-based players Victor Karpenko and Vladimir Maminov. – AFP