Football: Around the World - Kuwait set to challenge Uzbeks for Asian crown

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The Independent Online
AFTER SOME shocks in the opening week, the football tournament at the Asian Games in Bangkok was less sensational when the second round began yesterday.

Kuwait established themselves as one of the favourites for the gold medal with an impressive 5-0 thrashing of their Gulf rivals, United Arab Emirates. South Korea beat their World Cup 2002 co-hosts, Japan, 2-0 in a dull game while the defending champions, Uzbekistan, had no trouble in crushing North Korea 4-0. Turkmenistan survived a late scare to earn a 3-2 win over unfancied India.

Uzbekistan have not been seriously tested yet and should go through to the knock-out quarter-final stage. But unless the Uzbeks, who created a major upset when they won the title in Japan four years in their international tournament debut, show something special when facing more serious opposition, they will lose their crown. Kuwait's performance has lifted them up alongside China, with four Europe-based players in their squad, and Iran as the hot tips.

Japan are not the favourites because they have brought their Under-21 squad, which is preparing for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, to Thailand. They only just beat India in the first round. South Korea, who have sent their senior side, had a dreadful start to the tournament when they lost their opening game to unheralded Turkmenistan, and only reached the second stage thanks to a flattering 4-0 win over Vietnam in their next game.

The hosts, Thailand, are coached by the former England and Aston Villa centre-forward, Peter Withe. They are worth a bet as outsiders, especially as they have relatively easy second-round opponents in Lebanon, Qatar and Kazakhstan.

Sadly, Mongolia went home at the weekend. After losing their opening first-round match 11-0 to Kuwait, they were spotted playing a "friendly" with a giant-sized ball against some elephants in a nearby park. Whether it was just a publicity stunt or a genuine training session was not reported, but it did not do them much good. They were hammered 15-0 by Uzbekistan - a new Games record - in their second and last game on Saturday.

South Africa

THE DISMISSAL of the former West Ham and England inside-forward, Johnny "Budgie" Byrne, as the coach of Cape Town Spurs was the latest in a series of setbacks for his family's coaching dynasty.

Byrne, his two sons, David and Mark, and his son-in-law Gavin Hunt were all in charge of South African Premier League clubs at the start of the season in August - but the three Byrnes have now lost their jobs. David Byrne was sacked as the coach of struggling Santos last month. Hunt then left his job at relegation-threatened Seven Stars - to take over from his brother-in-law Mark Byrne at Hellenic.

Budgie's firing came after his club blew a 3-0 half-time lead over Manning Rangers in Cape Town on Saturday, losing the game 4-3.

Australia

THERE HAS been dismay Down Under at the news that Australia must win a play-off against South American opposition if they are to qualify for the 2002 World Cup finals.

The Australians were beaten by Iran in a play-off for this year's tournament in France. Next time, though, the Oceania winners will face the fifth- placed team in the South American group. The former team captain, Paul Wade, called the decision a "slap in the face".

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