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  Asian powerhouses ready to battle it out in Shandong  



The fifth edition of A3 Champions Cup, an annual soccer tournament featuring elite clubs from China, South Korea and Japan, will take place from June 7 to 13 in Jinan, east China's Shandong Province.

Japanese league champions Urawa Red Diamonds and South Korean league champions Seongnam Ilhwa will join two Chinese clubs - League and Cup champions Shandong Luneng and last season's runners-up Shanghai Shenhua - to fight it out for the trophy and $400,000 prize money.

Clubs from South Korea have won three times and Kashima Antlers of Japan were crowned champions in the first edition of the tournament. A Chinese club has yet to taste victory.

"We have lagged behind the leagues in Japan and South Korea. I hope by organizing the A3 Champions Cup, clubs from China will learn something from top teams of the other two countries," said Nan Yong, vice president of China Football Association.

"I believe China will benefit the most from the tournament. It is also helpful in developing the Chinese Super League."

The four clubs boast a number of international players.

Urawa Red Diamonds have international defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka and midfielders Yuki Abe and Keita Suzuki. Five South Korean national team players make up the backbone of the Seongnam side.

Shandong are home to the two first-choice strikers in the national team - Li Jinyu and Han Peng - while playmaker Zheng Zhi, now on-loan with English Premiership club Charlton, is set to return.

Shenhua will depend on international defenders like Li Weifeng and Du Wei, midfielder Yu Tao and teenager striker Mao Jianqing.

Chief officials from the three associations also promised to make more efforts to promote the tournament and make it a long-term fixture in the calendar.

"The clubs are not simply chasing trophies or prize money. We are hoping to develop the A3 into a prestigious tournament that will attract the world's attention," said Kim Won-dong, secretary-general of Korea Football Association.

Kim said a significant ambition is to help the development of grassroots soccer in the region.

"We will make A3 an important platform for exchange of football at different ages."

Teenager soccer fans from poverty-stricken areas will be invited to watch the games, and the organizing committee has reached an agreement to organize U-17, U-14 and U12 competitions.

"We are aiming to give teenager players more opportunities. It is the first time that we have organized events at the grassroots level," said Nan. "China's long-term development is based on high-level grassroots football."





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