IT'S PARTY TIME
Hope and despair, ecstasy and anguish - what fate awaits Asia's gang of five at Germany 2006?
The long wait is almost over. Only three days to go to the start of the greatest single-sport festival the world has to offer.
The next four weeks from Friday are about to condense four years of speculation, hope, despair and joy for soccer fans all over as the rollercoaster action forges its way towards establishing the champions of the world - and Asia will be no exception as World Cup fever takes hold.
This guide will help you get the utmost enjoyment out of the spectacle, bringing you up to date with the facts, figures, personalities and prospects of each of the 32 squads taking part in Germany 2006. With China failing to qualify, most of the Asian attention will be drawn to the progress of South Korea and Japan, Asian realm newcomers Australia, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The 2002 tournament co-hosts performed far above expectations on home soil but there are doubts whether they can do as well in what will often be a hostile atmosphere. Australia, who qualified through the Oceania-Pacific region but are now part of the Asian fold, are said to be a team transformed by Dutch coaching wizard Guus Hiddink. Saudi Arabia and Iran are considered outsiders, but still have the talent to surprise.
And, of course, Hong Kong, with its cosmopolitan society, will have in its midst strong and vociferous pockets of support for the other 27 teams in the competition.
Follow the progress of the teams and experience the daily drama and excitement with our reporter in Germany, Alvin Sallay. It's all in the Post and online, at www.scmp.com.