Playing to what will undoubtedly be a full house in central Beijing's Workers' Stadium come Saturday night, the match is being officially touted as a competitive match between two great sporting nations, but unofficially it's war.

"We must succeed in this match," read one comment posted on the Sina.com web page, "as we can lose to anyone except little Japan."

"Though it's hard," went another, "China must win the war against Japan."

Unresolved wartime animosities have long given rise to occasional outbursts against Japan and the Asian Football Cup has been no exception.

Unlikely turn

Representatives of Japan - the defending champions - have complained of being booed and jeered on pitch throughout the competition.

Chinese spectators at some games where Japan has played have even unfurled banners demanding the return of the disputed Diaoyutai Islands and asking for Japan to properly atone for its wartime past.

The Japanese will be prepared for
boos and jeers during the match

Among politicians, statements have had to be issued reminding people that it's just a game.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry asked fans on both sides to enjoy the match "with good behaviour".

The likelihood though of the final turning into anything nasty is unlikely.

Chinese football matches are rarely known for their violence. Supporters and players alike will probably have more to fear from the unpredictable volley of home-made fireworks that are a feature of football matches in China than any wayward fist or beer bottle.

For many fans, they are just impressed China got to the final.

"It has been great for China to make the final," Zhu Shandong, marketing director of the China Football Association told Aljazeera.net. "They have not played so well for a long time and they are certainly not the strongest team in Asia."

In fact, the national team is often the butt of local derision. Their last showing on the international stage at the 2002 World Cup resulted in not a single goal being scored.

Unstoppable?

Whether it's the home crowd or their new Dutch coach, Arie Haan, this time round China has appeared unstoppable.

In the earlier rounds they dominated their Group A rivals - Qatar, Indonesia and Bahrain - before progressing to a 3-0 win over Iraq in the quarter finals.

"We were lucky against Iran but I am not sure about the final... I think Japan have a 60% chance of winning"

Chinese spectator Feng Jianwen

Their semifinal game on Tuesday night, however, came down to a 4-3 penalty shootout against Iran with a controversial red card - meaning Iran played with only 10 men for part of the match.

"We were lucky against Iran but I am not sure about the final," match spectator Feng Jianwen said. "I think Japan have a 60% chance of winning."

A win for the host team and its unlikely Beijing will get much sleep. When China qualified for the 2002 World Cup, several 100,000 people took to Tiananmen Square to celebrate.

However, for one Chinese fan a China victory will come with mixed blessings. "Before the tournament started I put $1000 on Japan to win," Wang Fei, a driver for a foreign company told Aljazeera.net.

"Now, in my heart I want China to win, but in my wallet I want Japan!"