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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Velappan targets high five
Asian Football Confederation chief Peter Velappan
Velappan wants the world to see Asian football at its best
The most powerful man in Asian football expects to see at least five teams from the continent represented at the 2006 World Cup finals.

Peter Velappan, secretary-general of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), believes hosts Japan and Korea, along with Saudi Arabia and China, will excel at the 2002 tournament.

Open Quote
Japan and Korea will prove they are more than worthy hosts of the first Asian World Cup
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Peter Velappan
AFC Secretary-General

And, as a result, the man who has shaped the region's football for 23 years believes the 44 members of the AFC will be sufficiently rewarded at the next event in four years time.

"By 2006, we expect to have five Asian teams represented in Germany," Velappan said.

"And, by then, Asia will have the teams as well as the broad infrastructure in place to justify the claim for five seats in 2006."

Currently Asian teams are granted four qualification spots with a fifth decided in a two-leg play-off against European opponents.

Iran lost out to the Republic of Ireland in November to prevent Velappan realising his dream in time for 2002.

However, he is confient that the four sides that did make it will be excellent ambassadors for Asian football.

Japan celebrate a recent international success
The Japanese will have plenty to celebrate

"Japan and Korea will prove to the world that they are more than worthy hosts of the first Asian World Cup," he said.

"The quartet has all the talents as well as the determination and 2001 has been a very positive year in the development of Asian football.

"Saudi Arabia's qualification for their third World Cup in succession is something to be proud of."

Velappan, who worked for Unilever before joining the Asian federation, has been renowned for his outspoken approach to global football.

Four years ago he famously criticised Asian footballers for their lack of fitness and in 2001 was equally harsh in his views on the Afro-Asian Games in Delhi.

The target of his scathing attack was the stadiums in host city Delhi, which he described as obsolete.

Attempts to improve them were like "saving a dying cancer patient", he said.

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I'm sorry Holland have't made it and I will miss the Scottish fans
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Peter Velappan

Velappan, though, is no stranger to criticism himself and many are still less confident than he about the success of this summer's competition.

Some are worried about the language barrier problem and others concerned about safety in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

Verlappan, however, sees matters very differently.

"All our preparations are on track. Everyone will be catered for," he predicted confidently.

Despite this positive outlook, there will still be some flaws come June and Verlappan already has some regrets

"I'm sorry Holland have not made it," he said. "And I will miss the Scottish fans.

"Just think of the Tartan Army in their kilts marching into the cities of Korea and Japan..."

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