Japan faces Asian Cup without mascot Rommel

Japan's campaign for a third straight AFC Asian Cup title may be at risk following the retirement of team mascot Rommel. The miniature dachshund, called Ron for short, was once Japan's lucky charm, his talismanic presence said to be behind the team's 18-game unbeaten run before the 2006 World Cup. But after Japan's meek exit from the tournament Rommel was stood down by his owner, Japan Football Association's chief media officer Hideto Teshima. "That unbeaten streak was always going to end in Germany," Teshima told Alastair Himmer of Reuters. "You can't really blame Ron. Japan weren't going to win the World Cup. The time was right for him to walk away. He's about 13 now, which in human years is 91. He's getting on."

Ron shot to stardom at the 2002 World Cup when he would frequently get himself entangled in electric computer cords and chew on journalists' shoes as they worked. Former Japan coach Zico even used to keep a photo of the loveable mutt in his breast pocket when the team's lucky charm was unable to travel to matches. Teshima insisted there would be no comebacks for Ron, no matter how hard the going gets for Japan at the Asian Cup, which kicks off this weekend. "There will be no comeback for Ron," smiled Teshima. "I know a lot of celebrities and sports personalities come back but Ron's retired. He's done."