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Japan to play Azerbaijan in warmup

Kyodo

Japan will play Azerbaijan in a friendly next month in Shizuoka, the Japan Football Association announced Monday.

Alberto Zaccheroni’s Asian champions are expected to be at full-strength when they face the European minnows at Ecopa Stadium on May 23 as a warmup for the final round of World Cup qualifying starting in June.

Having not played since losing 1-0 at home to Uzbekistan in February, Zaccheroni was eager for a game before June 3 when Japan hosts Oman at Saitama, where it plays Jordan five days later before taking on Australia away June 12.

“It will have been a good three months since our last match in the previous World Cup qualifying round,” JFA technical director Hiromi Hara said.

“Some of the players overseas whose league ends early won’t have played in a month when the World Cup qualifiers start, so it will be an important opportunity to get everyone fit.”

Japan kicked off its three-day mini-camp on Monday in Chiba Prefecture for J. League players, but Zaccheroni was forced to make one change before it even started.

Injured Kashiwa Reysol defender Wataru Hashimoto was replaced by FC Tokyo’s Kosuke Ota.