Japan seeks strong start

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/A/Apzico.jpg' class='caption'> Japan won't be intimidated by Australia's taller players in its World Cup opening match.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:34 IST
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Japan won't be intimidated by Australia's taller players in its World Cup opening match. The team will be playing in its third straight World Cup against a team that is making its first appearance in soccer's showcase event in 32 years. Coach Zico said on Saturday his players aren't worried about Australia's height advantage. "Sure they have a lot of tall players," Zico said. "But they're not all tall and if you mark them properly it's just like playing any other team". Crucial game Zico and his players know how important it is to secure three points in the Group F opener on Monday. A loss or a draw would be a big setback for Japan before it faces two tough opponents in Croatia and defending champion Brazil. "The match against Australia is huge," Zico said. "They are a good team with many players who play in Europe but we've come a long way and I have confidence in my players". Many feel a win over Australia could propel Japan into the second round. The Asian champions advanced to the round of 16 four years ago when they co-hosted the World Cup with South Korea. Anything less than that this time will be considered a disappointment for a team that has a huge following back home. Avoiding fouls A key for Japan will be avoiding fouls that result in set plays for the larger Australians. "There's no doubt Australia has a good team," said Japan midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura, who plays for Celtic. "But we've worked hard and are ready for this match". Japan looks almost certain to go with Hamburger SV striker Naohiro Takahara and Atsushi Yanagisawa at forward. If either is unable to start because of injury, Keiji Tamada would likely get the call. Nakamura and Yanagisawa played well in Japan's 2-2 draw with host Germany in a warmup match on May 30, surprising the 2002 finalists with their speed and passing ability. With Nakamura, Hidetoshi Nakata, playmaker Shinji Ono and Mitsuo Ogasawara, Japan has what is considered the strongest midfield in Asia. Daunting task Defenders Yuji Nakazawa, captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and Keisuke Tsuboi will be faced with the daunting task of keeping Australia forwards Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka in check. Japan defender Akira Kaji didn't take part in Friday's practice. Kaji was injured in the Germany match after taking a hard tackle from midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and likely won't see action against Australia. Under coach Guus Hiddink, Australia ended a 32-year World Cup absence by beating Uruguay with a dramatic playoff win. Hiddink, the Dutchman who led South Korea to the semifinals four years ago, is widely considered to be one of the top coaches is soccer. Injury scare The Australians head into Monday's game with some injury concerns. Kewell is coming off a groin injury he picked up while playing for Liverpool and played only 60 minutes in a 3-1 win over Liechtenstein on June 7. Hiddink says Kewell's progress leading up to the game will determine whether he starts or comes off the bench. Viduka, the Socceroos' finisher, has a calf strain but the team said he will be ready for Monday. Everton's Tim Cahill is getting over a knee injury but is expected to be ready for Monday's match. The Australians are also aware of the importance of the first match. While Croatia and Brazil are the favorites to go through, both Japan and Australia are capable of reaching the second round if they get off to a good start. (AP)

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