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   June 10, 2002 | 1330 IST


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Second round beckons for Japan

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Co-hosts Japan have defied the formbook twice and now stand on the brink of a place in the second round of the World Cup after their 1-0 win over Russia lifted them to the top of group H on Sunday.

Japan coach Philippe Troussier, who is set to return to Europe at the end of the World Cup, was full of praise for his players but refused to get carried away with the result.

"It was a tremendous performance when we really needed a win. I'm proud to be the coach of Japan at such a historic moment," said the Frenchman. "But when we get back to our camp we have to concentrate again on making sure we reach the second round."

Japan earned their first ever World Cup point in the 2-2 draw with Belgium on Tuesday and went one better against Russia in Yokohama courtesy of a 51st minute strike from man-of-the-match Junichi Inamoto.

A point against Tunisia in Osaka on Friday would be enough for Japan to advance to the knockout stage, although Troussier is under no illusions that qualification is now a foregone conclusion.

"The pressure was really on us to get a victory against Russia and it will be the same against Tunisia. The main goal for us is still to reach the second round, but we know we still have work to do to achieve that," he said.


Apart from Inamoto, who scored his second goal of the tournament in another wonderful all-round display, Troussier will have been heartened by the form of midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata after a difficult week for the Parma player.

Nakata, upset by recent reports that he would retire from international football after the World Cup, orchestrated Japan's best moves and almost scored what would have been one of the goals of the tournament when a 30-metre drive crashed against the bar in the 71st minute.

With captain Ryuzo Morioka ruled out Sunday's game with an ankle injury, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto stepped in and produced his best ever performance for Japan despite wearing a Zorro-style mask to protect his broken nose.

"Rather than singling out individuals, I want to congratulate the whole team. It was our collective spirit that got us this win. All the players did a fantastic job," said Troussier.


The Japan manager will be concerned with having Morioka fit for Friday, however, while Nakata's various aches and pains were hardly helped by some of the physical treatment he was subject to against Russia.

Japan's win puts the pressure back on co-hosts South Korea, who face the U.S. in their second match after beating Poland 2-0 in their group D opener on Tuesday. No host country has ever failed to reach the second round of the World Cup.

But if South Korea beat the U.S. and Japan secure a point against Tunisia, both the joint hosts will go through to the second round, a scenario that would have almost unthinkable less than a month ago.

Japan lost all three matches in their World Cup debut in France four years ago, while South Korea had never won a match in five previous appearances in the finals.

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