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   June 4, 2002 | 1039 IST



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Japan wary of set pieces

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World Cup co-hosts Japan expect a tough, physical opener against Belgium in group H on Tuesday, with set pieces likely to be a major threat to their hopes of a winning start.

"Our objective is to reach the second round," coach Philippe Troussier told reporters on Monday. "We might be the underdogs but we are not afraid of Belgium and playing at home will probably give us a slight advantage."

Japan are under pressure to erase the memory of losing all three games in their World Cup debut in 1998.

That, and the expectations of home fans, could pose as much of a problem as a Belgium side playing in their sixth straight finals.

Nakata Japan have played Poland, Slovakia, Norway and Sweden in recent months to prepare themselves for the Belgium game but Troussier admits that his players will still be at a disadvantage in terms of size and strength.

"We expect a very tough match, especially physically and we will have to try to stand up to Belgium," he said.

"They can be dangerous from set pieces, but about 70 percent of the goals in the World Cup have come from dead-ball situations so we know it's an area we need to watch out for."

Troussier confirmed that playmaker Shinji Ono was fit to play after an injury scare last week. Belgium may be without defenders Nico van Kerckhoven, who hurt his knee while practising penalties in training, and Glen de Boeck.

Both sides are expected to adopt a 3-5-2 system and the match could be won or lost in midfield. Hidetoshi Nakata has a key role to play if Japan are to come away with a win.

Johan Walem and wide man Bart Goor could be match-winners for Belgium if the Japanese defenders back off and allow them too much time on the ball.

Japan are especially wary of the aerial threat posed by Belgium forwards of Gert Verheyen and Marc Wilmots after the experience of losing 3-0 to Norway recently.

Japan's other rivals in group H are Russia and Tunisia.

Probable teams:

Japan (3-5-2): 1-Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi; 3-Naoki Matsuda, 4-Ryuzo Morioka, 16-Koji Nakata; 20-Tomokazu Myojin, 5-Junichi Inamoto, 21-Kazuyuki Toda, 7-Hidetoshi Nakata, 18-Shinji Ono; 9-Akinori Nishizawa, 13-Atsushi Yanagisawa

Belgium (3-5-2): 1-Geert De Vlieger; 16-Daniel Van Buyten, 3-Glen De Boeck, 5-Nico Van Kerckhoven; 15-Jacky Peeters, 18-Yves Vanderhaeghe, 6-Timmy Simons, 10-Johan Walem, 8-Bart Goor; 7-Marc Wilmots, 11-Gert Verheyen

Match referee: William Mattus (Costa Rica)

Haidar Koleit (Liberia)
Yuri Dupanov (Belarus)

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