SEOUL - The fringe players of Japan, South Korea and Australia will get a chance to push for selection in next year's World Cup at the East Asian Cup starting on Saturday.
Domestic-based players will carry their nations' hopes at the July 20-28 tournament in Seoul and Hwaseong, which falls outside FIFA dates - meaning clubs do not have to release their foreign stars.
Japan's key men Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda are among those missing, while South Korea will be without Bayer Leverkusen striker Son Heung-Min.
China, the fourth team taking part, have few foreign-based players and have not qualified for the World Cup in Brazil. They will be under caretaker coach Fu Bo after Juan Antonio Camacho was sacked.
Strict enforcement of the rules raised hackles with Australia manager Holger Osieck, who was left fuming after Asian clubs baulked at releasing players including Nagoya Grampus striker Josh Kennedy.
"The foreign clubs created a lot of problems," said Osieck, who waited for last-minute negotiations with the clubs before announcing his final squad.
"I understand the games are not FIFA-protected but there is a gentleman's agreement between the competing countries that players from the respective leagues should be released to play.
"If you host a tournament like this, for me it's a no-brainer that players are released."
Australia are playing the round-robin tournament for the first time, while hosts South Korea will also be under a new manager in Hong Myung-Bo, after Choi Kang-Hee stepped down last month.
The former South Korean captain, who led his country to Olympic bronze last year, has a youthful squad with six uncapped players and only five with 10 international appearances or more.
The players include Park Jong-Woo, who was banned for two matches for holding up a placard relating to a sensitive territorial dispute after South Korea beat Japan in the Olympic bronze medal play-off.
"I selected players that I felt will be competitive for the World Cup next year," said Hong. "The competition (for roster spots in Brazil) will begin immediately. Veterans will have to battle these new players."
Japan are even greener, with seven uncapped players - although two of them, Yohei Toyoda of Sagan Tosu and Yoichiro Kakitani of Cerezo Osaka, are among the J-League's leading scorers.
World champions Japan headline the women's competition which will have a political dimension after North Korea agreed to take part following the latest period of high tensions with Seoul.
North Korea's women have not competed in South Korea since the 2005 East Asian Cup, and Pyongyang has not sent any sports team across the heavily fortified border since a men's World Cup qualifier in April 2009. Japan and China are the other teams taking part.