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   00 May, 2002 | 0000 IST


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Japan have "God" on their side

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Japan coach Philippe Troussier believes the co-hosts can count on "divine" inspiration at the World Cup in the shape of veteran Jubilo Iwata striker Masashi Nakayama.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's World Cup warm-up against Sweden in Tokyo, the Frenchman told reporters he was not concerned about the form of his mis-firing forwards and insisted that Nakayama's presence alone would give the Japan squad a huge lift.

"We have God on our side. So what if he hasn't scored in six months? His presence in the group is enough to help us score goals," said Troussier.

"His experience and the pride he shows in playing for Japan has already had such a positive effect in the camp."

Nakayama has been a talismanic figure for Japan in the past and scored their only goal in their World Cup debut in France in 1998, but he had been overlooked by Troussier all year until his surprise inclusion in the World Cup squad last week.

Troussier said that he decided to call up the 34-year-old, along with another forgotten man, Kashima Antlers defender Yutaka Akita, after Japan were beaten 3-0 by Norway in Oslo on May 14, a result that gave the Asian champions a World Cup wake-up call.


"I felt I had to do something to strengthen the squad. I have not picked the best 23 players in Japan, I know, but this squad is the best balance of players, a perfect mix of youth and experience," said Troussier.

Asked about Saturday's game against Sweden, the 47-year-old said: "We are not even thinking about Sweden. Since arriving at our base camp on Monday, we have been focusing on Belgium."

Japan play Belgium in their group H opener in Saitama on June 4, five days after the World Cup kicks off in co-hosting South Korea. Russia and Tunisia are the other teams in Group H.

Troussier and Swedish coaches Lars Lagerback and Tommy Soderberg have agreed that both teams can make up to 10 substitutions in their Kirin Challenge Cup match at National Stadium.

"The objective of the game for us is to give everyone a run-out. We are struggling to score goals but that is a universal problem. Maybe only France find it easy to score goals," said Troussier.

Naohiro Takahara and Akinori Nishizawa are the only Japan forwards to have scored in six matches this year.

But Takahara has been ruled out of the World Cup with a lung infection, while Nishizawa is in the squad but will not play against Sweden after having his appendix removed recently.

"We will have a great advantage at the World Cup playing at home. The challenge of reaching the second round will give us enough incentive to start scoring goals again," said Troussier.

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