SAITAMA — Japan coach Philippe Troussier confidently expressed his team’s readiness for today’s World Cup match against Belgium, the team’s first game in Group H, to be played at Saitama Stadium 2002.
“We have been preparing for this for four years and we have the great advantage of playing at home,” Troussier told the reporters at a Saitama hotel on Monday.
“Our players are well prepared and are waiting for success.”
The Japanese team traveled from their World Cup base camp in Iwata, Shizuoka Prefecture, in the morning and practiced at the venue in the evening.
“Of course, the first match is very important for us. And it’s very important for us to get some points and build some momentum, and we need to be confident for that,” said Troussier, who took the helm of the team in September 1998.
“As I said before, this group is pretty open and each of us has a chance to get through the first round. We need at least four points to advance to the next round.
“The course of a game and the development of Group H will be decided by small things, but the most important thing is to earn points.”
To win points in the tournament, the cohost needs to score goals, but the Japanese forwards have yet to hit their stride.
In this year’s friendlies, Naohiro Takahara of Jubilo scored in Japan’s 2-0 win over Poland and Akinori Nishizawa of Cerezo Osaka provided the winning margin in Japan’s 1-0 victory over Slovakia.
Takahara, however, failed to make the cut for the World Cup squad after suffering blood clots in his lung early April.
Asked if he is worried about the recent scoring drought, Troussier replied, “I’m not concerned at all. Because I know we can get our best performances when we work together.”
Belgium has qualified for the quadrennial tournament six times in a row and finished fourth in the 1986 World Cup.
“We expect a very tough match physically, especially on set plays, and we know the pressure will be on all 90 minutes,” Troussier said.
“But we have prepared through our warmups against Poland, Slovakia, Norway and Sweden, and after these games, we changed our approach to fix (the bad parts of) our team.”
Japan midfielder Shinji Ono of the Urawa Reds and Nishizawa recently suffered appendicitis. But Troussier said all of his players are fine and those who will be out of the starting lineup on Tuesday will be for tactical reasons.
“We’ve done the initial mission as we’ve established a good team and our players understand what I’ve been trying to do,” he said.
“But we are entering a difficult phase, and we’d like to show how much Japanese soccer has improved, win a historic point for the team and put Japan on the map of world soccer.
“Our players should be aware that they are an ambassadors of Japan and Asian football and they should take on this challenge with confidence.”
Japan and Belgium have met once before, when they played to a 0-0 draw in a friendly in Tokyo on June 3, 1999.
“Since this is my second World Cup, I’ll do my best to help our team get the first win for Japan in the first game, against Belgium,” said Ono.
Veteran forward Masashi Nakayama of Jubilo said that everyone on the team was relaxed and in high spirits.
“We all know that the first game is important and none of us will be beaten by the pressure from that,” Nakayama said.
“When we step on the pitch Tuesday, we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”
Following the Belgium game, Japan will play Russia on June 9 in Yokohama and Tunisia on June 14 in Osaka.
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