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Zaccheroni ready for Japan to ‘create opportunities’ against Tajikistan in qualifier

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has brushed off concerns over the Asian champions’ recent lack of firepower, but admits he is expecting another tight World Cup qualifier against Tajikistan in Osaka on Tuesday night.

In the absence of star midfielder Keisuke Honda, who is recovering from a serious knee injury, Japan has gone off the boil since romping past South Korea 3-0 in a friendly in Sapporo in August.

Zaccheroni’s men needed a 94th-minute goal from defender Maya Yoshida to squeeze out a 1-0 win in their opening Group C game at home to North Korea, before grinding out a 1-1 draw to take a fortuitous point away to Uzbekistan last month.

Japan also made hard work of Vietnam in a friendly in Kobe on Friday, edging the Southeast Asian minnows 1-0 thanks to Tadanari Lee’s first-half strike.

“It’s true we have only managed one goal in each of the last three games but we created more chances than we ever have before against North Korea and had chances against Uzbekistan,” Zaccheroni told a news conference on the eve of the match against the Tajiks at Nagai Stadium.

“If the number of chances we make were less than the number of goals we score then it would be a concern. If we had made hardly any chances in my 15 games in charge it would certainly be a worry. I think we are just missing that little bit of accuracy in front of goal.”

“We had a couple of dubious offside decisions go against us against Vietnam, but on the other hand we took our chances against South Korea. The important thing is to create opportunities. Sometimes you take them and sometimes you don’t,” said the Italian.

Tajikistan have lost both of their Group C qualifiers 1-0 against Uzbekistan and North Korea but Zaccheroni says the Central Asians must not be underestimated.

“I watched the two qualifiers they played and they didn’t allow their opponents many chances. We know how important this match is. My players played with a high motivation against Vietnam and I trust in them.”

Tajikistan coach Alimzhon Rafikov, whose squad has been depleted by injuries, said he is under no illusions about the size of the task facing his team.

“There is no such thing as a team that doesn’t try and win. We might only have a 100-1 chance or 1,000-1 chance of winning, we are not kidding ourselves,” said Rafikov.

“We know what a strong team we will be up against, but we will do our best and try not to let ourselves down.”