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   21 May, 2002 | 1445 IST


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'Japan's mission not impossible'

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Japan are on a "mission" reach the second round of the World Cup, coach Philippe Troussier said on Tuesday.

The Frenchman told reporters Japan had nothing to fear from their Group H opponents Belgium, Russia and Tunisia as they attempt to avoid becoming the first host country not to progress beyond the group phase of the World Cup.

"Our mission is a difficult one but it is not mission impossible," said Troussier. "I have total faith that the players I have chosen can do the job asked of them."

Co-hosts South Korea face Poland, Portugal and the U.S. in Group D and will be just as anxious as Japan to avoid a first-round exit.

Japan Football Association president Shunichiro Okano said the country expected the national team to make history at the World Cup.

"Japan have never won a match at the World Cup but I believe the players will want to write a new chapter in Japanese football history this summer," said Okano.

Japan lost all three of their matches in their World Cup debut in France in 1998.

Troussier, who returned from Paris on Monday after watching Belgium beat holders France 2-1 in a World Cup warm-up on Saturday, was in no mood to answer questions from journalists after a difficult week.

His nephew died in a traffic accident the previous weekend and Japan were humbled 3-0 by Norway last Tuesday, a result which gave the Asian champions a World Cup wake-up call.

"The 23 players I picked have come through the system that we have had in place for four years," said Troussier. "I asked the players to show their pride at being selected and to go out and prove that they deserve to be there."

His decision to leave Yokohama playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura out of the squad was greeted with dismay in the Japanese tabloids over the weekend, which could explain why Troussier refused questions on Tuesday.

The 47-year-old has had a frosty relationship with the Japanese media since taking charge of Japan in September 1998.

But his latest snub, in his first media conference since the World Cup squad was announced by the JFA on Friday, is a further sign that the pressure of managing the co-hosts is beginning to tell.

Japan, whose seven-match unbeaten run came to a halt in Oslo last week, play Sweden in their final World Cup warm-up in Tokyo on Saturday when Troussier's squad selection is bound to come under intense scrutiny.

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