Soccer / World Cup

Under-fire Zico sticking to his guns

Japan coach Zico returned to Japan on Tuesday and insisted that he has not changed his mind regarding his controversial plan to call up several ex-internationals for this month’s World Cup qualifier at home to Singapore, but will consult top Japanese soccer officials before making a final decision.

With Japan already assured a place in the final round of qualifiers for the 2006 finals in Germany, Zico wants to call up the likes of Kazuyoshi Miura, Masashi Nakayama and Yutaka Akita as a token of appreciation for their contributions to the national team.

But Zico’s plan to turn back the clock has been widely criticized and representatives of J. League clubs, who want the coach to use the match as a stepping stone for next year and try out some of the younger and less experienced players, are strongly opposed to the idea.

“Basically my feelings have not changed regarding this issue. There are still a few more days for me to give this matter some thought,” said Zico, who did not elaborate on who he wants to draft into the squad.

“All I want to do is show my gratitude to the players that have worked hard to build the national team.”

“I am not taking this match lightly. And anyone who says I am, is showing disrespect to (the ex-international) players who boast a wealth of experience.”

Zico’s comments come less than two weeks after he claimed that “Singapore hardly represent any kind of test,” despite the fact that Japan struggled to beat the Asian minnow 2-1 in its away tie in March.

He is scheduled to meet with Japan Football Association president Saburo Kawabuchi and technical director Kozo Tashima before announcing his squad.

Japan has a perfect 15 points from five games, six ahead of second-placed Oman with one round of matches remaining in Group 3. Singapore and India have three points each.