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Japan seeking to restore pride against Koreans

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo News

National team coach Takeshi Okada is determined to restore pride and erase the painful memory of a defeat that put his job in jeopardy when Japan takes on South Korea in its final World Cup warmup on home soil on Monday.

“I want us to deliver a good performance, show what kind of soccer we will be playing at the World Cup and get the right result before departing for South Africa,” Okada told a news conference on the eve of the sold-out clash at Saitama Stadium 2002.

“I think this is the first time Japan and South Korea will be playing each other at full strength in around 12 years so this match has great significance,” said Okada.

“We lost to South Korea at the East Asian championship in February and we have to battle to save national pride.”

Okada survived the chop after the South Koreans thumped Japan 3-1 at the East Asian tournament in Tokyo in a typically full-blooded affair that saw both teams finish with 10 men.

A recent 3-0 defeat at home to Serbia dealt Japan’s preparations for South Africa a fresh blow, but playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura says the players are up for the fight and confident they can put things right and sign off on a winning note.

“We can’t be worrying about the risk of injuries and we will be all right if we go full tilt,” said Nakamura.

“More than a performance we want a result. I am not thinking about what will happen if we lose. The mood in the team is bright and we are all ready.”

In contrast, South Korea coach Huh Jung Moo appeared wary of the physical toll the match could take on his players and said he would not be taking any unnecessary risks.

“We won’t be doing anything out of the ordinary. This match is simply part of the buildup to the World Cup and we will be treating it as such,” said Huh.

“We have some players that are not in great condition and I am not going to force anything (and risk injuries). I will just be using the players that are OK to improve their physical condition.

“Games between Japan and South Korea always draw attention for various reasons but I’d like to think both teams will be able to use this match to show how far they have progressed.”

Huh said he would likely give some minutes to AS Monaco striker Park Chu Young to help him get his competitive edge back after being sidelined with injury.

Monday’s game will be Japan’s last before leaving for South Africa via stops in Switzerland and Austria for altitude training and further tuneups against England and Cote d’Ivoire.