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   June 8, 2002 | 1115 IST



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Breakaways the key for Japan

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Japan feel their best hope of beating group H leaders Russia is to defend in numbers and attack on the break in a game on Sunday that could decide whether the World Cup co-hosts reach the second round.

Japan coach Philippe Troussier will be anxious to discover whether playmaker Alexander Mostovoi is fit to start for Russia in Yokohama as his side look to build on their 2-2 draw with Belgium in their group opener.

But Russia will still start as favourites even if Mostovoi fails to recover from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the 2-0 win over Tunisia on Wednesday, despite evidence that they are not the force they once were.

Japan are expected to be largely unchanged from the side that earned their first World Cup point against Belgium on Tuesday.

Captain Ryuzo Morioka should be fit to lead the defence after being carried off on a stretcher midway through the second half in Saitama with a toe injury.


Hidetoshi Nakata and Shinji Ono will again be crucial to Japan's hopes of unlocking the Russian defence, although the runs of Junichi Inamoto -- no longer a forgotten man after his man of the match performance against Belgium -- will also be a threat.

"If they want to man-mark me, then that will make it easier for my team mates. But, if I can get free, even more options will open up. I'm not worried what Russia do," Nakata said.

Russian coach Oleg Romantsev was critical of his team after their win over Tunisia and could make changes against Japan.

Striker Vladimir Beschastnykh, who looked out of sorts against Tunisia, could be replaced by 18-year-old Dmitry Sychev, who came on as a second-half substitute and was involved in both Russian goals in Kobe.

Russia have potential match-winners in midfield too, even without Mostovoi, with Valery Karpin and Yegor Titov likely to give the Japanese defenders a real test at International Stadium, the venue for the World Cup final on June 30.

Japan defender Koji Nakata is in for a torrid evening trying to stop Karpin working his magic down the right flank, while Inamoto and Kazuyuki Toda will need to keep a close eye on Titov, a player with wonderful vision and range of passing.

Marat Izmailov is expected to keep his place if Mostovoi is out, although the 19-year-old is likely to switch to his favoured left-sided midfield position if Mostovoi passes a late fitness test.

If Russia beat Japan they will progress to the second round of the World Cup. Japan, along with South Korea, are eager to avoid becoming the first World Cup hosts not to reach the second round of the tournament.

Probable teams:

Japan (3-5-2): 12-Seigo Narazaki; 3-Naoki Matsuda, 4-Ryuzo Morioka, 16-Koji Nakata; 22-Daisuke Ichikawa, 5-Junichi Inamoto, 21-Kazuyuki Toda, 7-Hidetoshi Nakata, 18-Shinji Ono; 11-Takayuki Suzuki, 13-Atsushi Yanagisawa

Russia (3-5-2): 1-Ruslan Nigmatullin; 2-Yuri Kovtun, 3-Yuri Nikiforov, 7-Viktor Onopko; 5-Andrei Solomatin, 8-Valery Karpin, 9-Yegor Titov, 20-Marat Izmailov, 21-Dmitry Kokhlov; 22-Dmitry Sychev, 19-Ruslan Pimenov

Match referee: Markus Merk (Germany)

Heiner Muller (Germany)
Evzen Amler (Czech Republic)

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