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Japan at full-strength for US tour

March 17, 2003 19:23 IST

Japan will honour their commitment to play friendlies against Uruguay and the United States later this month even if war breaks out with Iraq.

Coach Zico named seven European-based players on Monday, including Parma midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata and Junichi Inamoto of Fulham, in a strong 23-man squad for the matches against Uruguay in San Diego on March 26 and the United States in Seattle on March 29.

The Japan Football Association (JFA), who had initially cancelled the trip due to security fears, insisted they would only pull the plug on the games if a United States-led attack on Iraq placed the Japan players in direct danger.

"Even if a war breaks out, the tour goes ahead. But if the situation with Iraq takes a turn for the worst and leads to terrorist activities in the U.S., that would change things," JFA general secretary Takeo Hirata told reporters.

"We have been in contact with the Japanese Foreign Ministry, and the U.S. authorities have assured us the players will be safe. We will talk to the Foreign Ministry again depending on further developments."

Zico, meanwhile, will be keeping his fingers crossed that nothing disrupts the tour after securing the release of most of his overseas players.

Naohiro Takahara (Hamburg), Shinji Ono (Feyenoord), Shunsuke Nakamura (Reggina), Takayuki Suzuki (Genk) and goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (Portsmouth) are also set to make the trip from Europe.


"The U.S. proved by reaching the World Cup quarter-finals that they are a force to be reckoned with. Uruguay also did well at the World Cup, so both games will be a very good test," said Zico.

The Brazilian stressed that there would be no major changes to his preferred starting lineup, although he admitted he may experiment with the 3-5-2

formation Japan played under his predecessor Philippe Troussier.

"My basic philosophy is to play four defenders but it is useful to have the option to play 3-5-2 or to change the system from time to time," Zico said. "But the base of the side will stay the same with only two or three changes."

Zico again left out Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Kazuyuki Toda, who has not figured in his plans since he took over from Frenchman Troussier after the World Cup last year.

Urawa defender Keisuke Tsuboi and Kyoto striker Teruaki Kurobe have both been given first call-ups for Zico's third game as Japan coach.

Shimizu S-Pulse defender Ryuzo Morioka returns from injury after missing the 1-1 draw with Jamaica last October and the 2-0 defeat by Argentina in November.

"Nothing is broken, so there is nothing that needs fixing. We have more time to train together this time, which will give us more options," said Zico of the last two performances.

The squad:

Goalkeepers: Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (Portsmouth, England), Takashi Shimoda (Hiroshima), Seigo Narazaki (Nagoya).

Defenders: Yutaka Akita (Kashima), Akira Narahashi (Kashima), Toshihiro Hattori (Iwata), Nobuhisa Yamada (Urawa), Ryuzo Morioka (Shimizu), Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (Osaka G), Naoki Matsuda (Yokohama), Keisuke Tsuboi (Urawa).

Midfielders: Takashi Fukunishi (Iwata), Hidetoshi Nakata (Parma, Italy), Alex (Shimizu), Shunsuke Nakamura (Reggina, Italy), Mitsuo Ogasawara (Kashima), Koji Nakata (Kashima), Junichi Inamoto (Fulham, England), Shinji Ono (Feyenoord, Netherlands).

Forwards: Naohiro Takahara (Hamburg, Germany), Takayuki Suzuki (Genk, Belgium), Teruaki Kurobe (Kyoto), Masashi Nakayama (Iwata).

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