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Past Hostilities Overshadow China-Japan Football Match - 2004-08-05

Chinese and Japanese soccer fans are gearing up for the finals of Asia's premier football event Saturday, when their national teams face off in Beijing. The match is becoming more than just a sporting encounter.

Tickets are already sold out. Still, dozens of Chinese fans lined up at the Beijing Worker's Stadium ticket booth hoping to get a seat for Saturday's Asia Cup finals.

Some tickets cost nearly $50 - about a third of an urban worker's monthly wage.

For Chinese football (soccer) fans, national pride is at stake. Host China is playing in the finals for the first time in 20 years. Its rival is defending champion Japan.

But the match is becoming more than a friendly sporting encounter.

Nationalist sentiment is rising to the surface. During the Japanese team's games in the western city of Chongqing, Chinese spectators jeered at the players. Some carried anti-Japanese banners.

Japan invaded China in the 1930's and occupied parts of country until Tokyo's surrender in 1945 ending World War II. Chinese resentment toward Japan still lingers, despite Japanese apologies for its aggression.

Despite strong economic ties, Sino-Japanese relations have been often clouded by the past. Beijing has been wary of any action that it perceives differs from Tokyo's official pacifist policy, including visits by Japanese officials to a shrine honoring war dead. China and Japan are also involved in a dispute over a string of tiny islands in the East China Sea.

This Chinese fan sitting outside the Beijing stadium said sports and politics should not mix.

He says sports are sports. But he adds it is not only China that has feelings against the Japanese, other Asian people who came under Japanese occupation share similar emotions.

In Tokyo, chief cabinet secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda Wednesday said his government has called on China to maintain order during Saturday's match.

Mr. Hosoda says trouble or violence should not take place in such a sporting event.

Beijing will increase security in the stadium during the match. Any violence could tarnish Beijing's reputation as a sports host, before the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, said Wednesday he hopes both Chinese and Japanese fans would behave well during the game.

China advanced to the final after defeating Iran in a penalty shootout, while Japan narrowly beat Bahrain.

The Asia Cup, the region's top football event, kicked off in Beijing two weeks ago, drawing teams from 16 nations.