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Football

Bad blood threatens China-Japan clash


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Chinese police remove an anti-Japanese banner put up by Chinese spectators at one of Japan's matches.
start quote"It's a sports event. Why can't we just enjoy it?"end quote
-- Japan PM Junichiro Koizumi
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(CNN) -- Long lingering animosity between Japan and China threatens to boil over onto the sporting field when the two nations clash in the final of soccer's Asian Cup in Beijing on Saturday.

The Japan team has been met with jeers from hecklers in the stands who booed the players and their national anthem throughout the tournament, which is being hosted by China.

In one instance in Chongqing, an angry mob stormed Japan's team bus and riot police had to be called in to escort fans out of the stadium.

The incidents override the old adage that sport and politics don't mix and underscore the tensions that still exist between the East Asian neighbors.

Both sides will be playing for more than just the honor of being Asian champions -- national pride is at stake.

It is unlikely a Japanese win -- they were favorites heading into the tournament -- on Chinese soil will be well received by the hordes of rowdy home spectators that have hurled abuse at the Japan team and their fans.

Many in China are still incensed over and have not forgiven Japan for its World War II atrocities as evidenced by a banner displayed at one of Japan's games.

"Looking into history, apologise to Asia people," the banner read, referring to Japan's military aggression before and during World War II.

However, other issues still rile ordinary Chinese.

Both nations regularly bicker over the sovereignty of a chain of islands in the East China Sea.

Japanese disposal experts continue to work in China disposing of unexploded WW II munitions which still kill or poison many Chinese each year.

But last year, relations nose-dived further after a three-day sex romp involving hundreds of Japanese tourists and Chinese prostitutes at a hotel in south China.

Some Chinese were convinced the orgy was timed to humiliate China as it coincided with the eve of the anniversary of the start of Japan's occupation of China -- September 18, 1931.

Protest

The situation at the Asian Cup has led the Japanese government to lodge a protest with China calling for them to bring their fans under control.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi was quoted in local media as saying the booing was "deplorable."

"I want Chinese soccer fans to reflect a little more on their anti-Japanese actions ... it is not conducive to advancing Japan-China relations," he said.

story.china.fan.afp.jpg
A Japanese win in Beijing is unlikely to go down well with Chinese fans.

China has pledged to rein in its fans, but in a statement Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan also hit out at the Japanese media for what he said was politicking the issue.

"International soccer matches often witness extreme behaviour by a handful of fans. We do not agree with this," Kong said in a statement on the ministry's Web site.

"But it must also be pointed out that some Japanese media have stirred up and exaggerated the behaviour of a few people, and even linked this with politics," Kong added.

"We express our regret at this."

With millions expected to watch Saturday's final on television screens in Asia as well as the rest of the world, officials are worried poor fan behavior may tarnish the image of the game.

"I hope the Chinese team will be well supported but at the same time, I am hoping that the China fans give the Japanese the same sort of treatment," Asian Football Confederation boss Peter Velappan said.

"We are advocating fair play at the Asian Cup. Every team has the right to compete on common ground so let's finish the tournament on a real high."

Security is set to be stepped up at Beijing's Workers' Stadium for the final, with kick-off at 8 p.m. (1200 GMT) Saturday.


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