PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 July, 2004, 12:00am

In Chengdu

Although Saudi Arabia are between generations, this section seems to be falling in favour of their relatively young and inexperienced squad. Dutch coach Gerard van der Lam has ushered out a generation of ageing superstars, such as striker Sami Al Jaber and defender Abdullah Sulaiman Zubromawi, since the 2002 World Cup debacle. Key to their chances are the displays of central midfielder Mohammed Nour of Al Ittihad, and Marzouq Al Otaibi and Talal Al Meshal because the Saudis otherwise lack experience in attack.

The Saudis' weak point has always been their mentality. The hierarchical nature of the country's society is reflected in the way football is managed and to the princes and the other members of the elite who get involved for the status it affords them, the foreign coach is an easily dispensable employee. As a result the coach can't always get his message across or control expectations. The result has been stunning defeats in their opening matches of the last World Cup (8-0 v Germany) and the Asian Cup (4-1 v Japan).

Defensively, they have lost a lot of experience in recent years, including legendary goalkeeper Mohammed Al Daeyea, although the Al Hilal custodian has been brought back from international retirement as a back up to Mabrook Zaid.

If and when Iraq achieves stability as a country, look out! They have many of the assets of the Arabian teams, but a far better team mentality and work ethic. Most of the players would run through a brick wall for coach Adnan Hamd, who orchestrated Iraq's victory over Japan in the final of the 2000 Asian Under-19 Championship. However, Iraq are the only country to send their Olympic squad to the Asian Cup. This suggests the competition is not their priority. It could also be that because of the lack of a proper domestic competition this is the fittest side they can produce. In terms of experience they are likely to struggle.

Uzbekistan are a physically strong and powerful, very much in the European style, but will struggle in the heat of the Chinese summer and will find it difficult to adjust their style. Veteran midfielder Mirdjalal Kasimov is no longer a 90-minute player either and his ability from corners and free-kicks will be missed. With the exception of the 1994 Asian Games, which the fledgling nation won, Uzbekistan have been disappointing in major tournaments. They need to learn how to enjoy travelling

Turkmenistan are playing their first major tournament since joining the AFC in 1994. As well as lacking experience, none of their foreign-based players are with particularly high-level clubs. The squad is made up almost entirely of players from the Nisa side also coached by Rahim Kurbanmamedov or from the Kazakhstan league.