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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Peace Cup

One of two pictures we have of Seongnam doing something, so here they are raising the Asian Champions League trophy from a slightly different angle.
One of two pictures we have of Seongnam doing something, so here they are raising the Asian Champions League trophy from a slightly different angle.

As I'm sure you will no doubt be aware O'Neill and his squad are embarking on an Asian Adventure this summer, racking up the air miles and trying to flog a few shirts no doubt, but what the heck is the Peace Cup?

Having opened my big mouth on last week's podcast about my "extensive research" into the tournament, here's everything you need to know about the competition.

O'Neill is no stranger to the Peace Cup as his Aston Villa side were victorious in 2009, beating Juventus 4-3 on penalties in Andalucia, Spain. The competition itself is held every two years as the Sunmoon Peace Football Foundation invite football clubs from various regions to compete. The South Korean side Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are the only side to participate in every tournament due to their sponsorship with the Unification Church, who also sponsor the Sunmoon Peace Football Foundation.

The competition has faced controversy since its creation in 2003, mainly around the name. Originally christened the Sunmoon Peace Cup reservations were made that the tournament came across as too religious. Acting on the criticisms the tournament was renamed to World Peace King Cup, a catchy title I'm sure you'll agree. However the Asian Football Confederation were not impressed, warning the organisers that the term "World" could only be used by competitions arranged by FIFA and that apparently "King" can only be used by competitions held by a kingdom... Running out of ideas the men behind the competition simply dropped the questionable terms and were left with the Peace Cup.

This year sees Seongnam joined by Hamburg of the German Bundesliga, Dutch Eredivisie outfit FC Groningen and of course the Black Cats. Sunderland will face the host side this Thursday with the winner facing either Hamburg or Groningen on Sunday.

Whilst O'Neill has been quick to state that the club will be treating the tournament as a chance to work on fitness and preparation for the new season under "competitive" conditions the powers that be at SAFC seem to deem the trip as more than just a pre-season run out. Margaret Byrne, the club's chief executive, has ticked all the corporate boxes with her comments since the side's participation was confirmed back in March:

This tournament has a proud history involving many of the world's top clubs, and for Sunderland to be considered amongst them is a huge honour for us.

The arrival of Ji Dong-won at Sunderland has seen a truly warm partnership begin to grow between our football club and the Korean people.

They, like us, share a genuine passion for football and we are delighted to be sharing the Sunderland vision with them.

Sunderland's original keen interest in capitalising on the burgeoning Asian market came last year following Ellis Short's business links in South Korea, links which the American has since moved on from. Regardless, the SAFC delegation which visited, including Niall Quinn and Steve Bruce, who have both since moved on to pastures new, was enough to lead to an invitation to this summer's competition.

The competition itself has been radically down-sized since 2009 when twelve teams from Europe, South America and the Middle East were involved in the tournament held in Spain - which was also the first time that the competition had been held outside of South Korea.

Interestingly SAFC enter the tournament not only boasting a manager who last lifted the Peace Cup but also the man who scored the winning goal - Carlos Cuellar. It was the defender's sudden-death-penalty which saw Villa beat Italian giants Juventus in the final.

Unfortunately for the Peace Cup organisers the SAFC player they hoped to draw crowds to the competition following his exploits in the Premier League, most notably that goal against Manchester City, Ji Dong-won will not be involved in the tournament due to his inclusion in Korea's Olympic squad. So in a bizarre twist of fate rather than acting as the poster boy for SAFC during their time in South Korea Ji will be back home in the UK competing for a gold medal.

You have to wonder if Sunderland would have been invited to compete had the organisers known Ji was likely to be unavailable given that all competing sides boast a Korean amongst their ranks and this is obviously an important selling point to get the punters through the doors. Oh well, the Koreans will have to make do with Lee Cattermole and friends instead.

Whilst many will look at a the gruelling 11,000 mile round trip as little more than a publicity stunt and a further attempt to garner International recognition the tournament itself is not without merit. There is a healthy prize of £2m for the winners, a sum which you would imagine O'Neill would be quite happy to pocket should his side emerge victorious and would certainly be a welcome addition to his transfer funds.

As well as Ji Dong-won Sunderland will also be without star man Stephane Sessegnon for the trip. Whilst many of the more pessimistic fans may have believed that this was part of a conspiracy and that it was an indication of an impending transfer the simple truth is that the little fella has been afforded extra time off due to earlier African Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers, so you can stop panicking... for now.

Sessegnon is one among many notable absentees including (takes a deep breath); James McClean, John O'Shea, Kieren Westwood, Ahmed Elmohamady, Ji Dong-Won, Matt Kilgallon and Phil Bardsley. With such a sizable list unavailable for selection O'Neill has been able to put together a youthful squad and it will be a good opportunity for some of those who have been waiting in the wings to make a good impression.

With the competition kicking off this Thursday be sure to stay tuned to Roker Report as we will bring you previews, match reports and all the news coming out of Korea this week. Quite how we are going to manage this given the sketchy details surrounding coverage of the tournament we don't quite know, but where there's a will there's a way!

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