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Joe Ozaki confident of beating Europe

Asia captain Naomichi "Joe" Ozaki said on Wednesday he was confident his team will cause an upset by beating Ryder Cup winners Europe at this week's Royal Trophy.

Ozaki was excited by the prospect of competing against a team with five 2006 Ryder Cup-winning players.

"We will have a close match, but I have a positive feeling about my team. We have a very good chance of winning this," Ozaki told Reuters.

"They are stronger than us, they're the favourites. I'm enjoying being fired up but I'm optimistic we will show that the best team on paper doesn't always win," added Ozaki, who is a non-playing captain along with Europe's Seve Ballesteros.

Ozaki's eight-man team includes Japanese pair Toru Taniguchi and Tetsuji Hiratsuka, South Koreans Yang Yong-eun and SK Ho, Thai trio Thaworn Wiratchant, Thongchai Jaidee and Prom Meesawat, and India's Jeev Milkha Singh, who was Asia's top player in 2006.

Ballesteros's team includes four Swedes -- Johan Edfors Niclas Fasth, Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson -- as well as Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Lee Westwood and Anthony Wall.

Ozaki said the course at Bangkok's Amata Spring Country Club was tough, but better suited to his team.

"It can be windy off the green, so that means a player's short game must be good," he said. "The Asian boys have a very good short game."

Ballesteros, who led the Europeans to a slender 9-7 victory in the inaugural contest last year, said he was expecting the hosts to put up a good fight again.

"Nothing is easy, there are no easy competitions anymore," he told reporters. "All 16 players are champions and I expect the Asians to be very strong."

The three-day competition starts on Friday and features foursomes on day one, four-balls on day two and singles on the final day.

Northern Ireland's Clarke, making his Royal Trophy debut, said he expected a European victory but not by a large margin.

"They have a strong team and I expect it to be very close -- maybe even closer than last year," he told Reuters.

January 11, 2007


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