Vietnam looking for revenge in Tiger Cup semis
TIGER CUP VIETNAM will be looking to avenge their defeat in the final of the Southeast Asia (SEA) Games when they take on Thailand tonight in the Tiger Cup semi-final in Singapore.
Vietnam, under German coach Karl-Heinz Weigang, were surprise finalists at the SEA Games in Chiang Mai, Thailand, last December but were well beaten by the hosts in the gold medal match.
Two goals apiece for playmaker Tawan Sripan and striker Natipong Sritong-in gave the Thais a comfortable 4-0 victory, sparking scenes of wild celebration in Chiang Mai and across Thailand but also leading to riots and vandalism in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam have showed their SEA Games silver medal was no fluke by qualifying for the last four of the Tiger Cup - the inaugural tournament for the 10 nations in the ASEAN Football Federation.
A 1-1 draw with Indonesia in the final round of Group A matches left Vietnam in second place and with a semi-final tie against Group B champions Thailand.
In the other semi-final, Group A winners Indonesia meet Group B runners-up Malaysia, who edged host nation Singapore for the second qualifying spot behind the Thais.
But the Indonesians suffered a major setback for the knockout phase when top scorer Peri Sandria, who has struck four times in the tournament, was carried off with an injured ankle during the 1-1 draw with Vietnam.
Malaysia, who failed to qualify for the SEA Games semi-finals, earned 1-1 draws with Singapore and then Thailand to win through to the knockout stages.
The final will be on Sunday at the National Stadium.
JAPAN THE tranquil, ancient city of Kyoto sampled the sweet taste of J.League success for the first time last weekend as Purple Sanga finally won a match.
Promoted from the Second Division last season, Purple Sanga broke all records in their debut season in the top flight by losing their first 17 matches. They also lost their coach - Oscar, the former Brazilian World Cup central defender - along the way.
In the 18th round of matches, Purple Sanga finally opened their account with a 1-0 victory over Urawa Red Diamonds at Nishikyogoku Stadium. The only goal of the game was a 13th-minute header from Brazilian midfielder Alexandre - an Oscar signing.
Purple Sanga collected their first three points of the season but are still firmly anchored at the foot of the 16-team table, 12 points adrift of Cerezo Osaka. As yet there is no relegation in the J.League, so Purple Sanga can afford to be optimistic about the future.
Tomorrow they make the short journey to Nagoya to play title-chasing Grampus Eight, whose coach, Frenchman Arsene Wenger, is soon to take over at Arsenal.
Grampus are third with 39 points, only two points off the pace being set by Kashima Antlers. Kashiwa Reysol are second, also on 39 points but with a superior goal difference to Grampus.
The pick of tomorrow's schedule is league leaders Antlers against fourth-placed Yokohama Flugels, who also have 39 points, at Kashima.
Tomorrow's fixtures: Antlers v Flugels, Kashima; Jef United v S-Pulse, Akita; Reds v Bellmare, Komaba; Verdy v Sanfrecce, Fukui; Marinos v Avispa, Nagasaki; Jubilo v Reysol, Iwata; Grampus Eight v Purple Sanga, Mizuho A; Gamba v Cerezo, Expo '70.
CHINA THE growing popularity of professional football in China was reflected in the attendances for last weekend's Marlboro League programme.
Three of the matches were played in front of capacity crowds: 40,000 for Sichuan v Army in Chengdu, 35,000 for Tianjin v Beijing at Minyuan and 20,000 for Dalian v Jilin at Pulandian City.
Elsewhere, 46,000 fans saw Guangdong beat Jinan 3-1 in the 50,000-capacity Provincial Sports Centre in Shandong and 27,000 saw champions Shanghai win 2-0 at Shenzhen in the 30,000-capacity City Stadium in Shenzhen.
There is no stopping Dalian, whose 3-0 victory over bottom club Jilin moved them on to 35 points from 15 matches, eight points ahead of second-placed Guangzhou Apollo, who beat Guangzhou Songri 1-0 in the local derby.
With only seven rounds remaining, 1994 champions Dalian look out of reach.
Defending champions Shanghai are third on 26 points, two ahead of fourth-placed Army.
UZBEKISTAN UZBEKISTAN, who won the football gold medal on their Asian Games debut in 1994 following independence from the Soviet Union, suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Asian champions Japan in a friendly international at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
Japan, who became continental champions by winning the Asian Cup for the first time in 1992, used the match as a warm-up for their defence of the title in the United Arab Emirates in December.
'They are the Asian Games champions and are really tough opponents to beat,' said Japan coach Shu Kamo.
'Fortunately for us, they were not in top form and we could fight an even match. We were lucky we scored the goal at the beginning.' The only goal came in the sixth minute when Hiroaki Morishima put away a rebound.
Uzbekistan, who defeated South Korea 1-0 in the Asian Games semi-final and China 4-2 in the final to take the gold medal in Hiroshima, had several chances to equalise in the first half through Oleg Shatskikh.