• Kyodo


Japan coach Zico has been forced to reshuffle his pack for Thursday’s friendly against Germany in Yokohama in the wake of a spate of injuries to first-team defenders.

News photoGermany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn catches a ball during a practice session at Yokohama International Stadium on Wednesday.

Newly crowned J. League Player of the Year Yuji Nakazawa became the latest player to join the casualty list when he pulled out of the match on Wednesday due to a sore left ankle.

Yokohama F. Marinos teammate Naoki Matsuda has been struck down with a cold, while captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is suffering with a hamstring problem, leaving Zico little option but to change from 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 system his players have rarely looked comfortable with.

“It’s a shame that these players are injured. We thought Nakazawa might be okay. Unfortunately that is not the case but we just have to make the best of what we’ve got,” Zico told a press conference on the eve of the match.

Zico will be relying on Jubilo Iwata’s Makoto Tanaka, the relatively inexperienced Takayuki Chano, Akira Kaji and Alessandro Santos to shut out the physical Germans.

“Germany are a strong team in the air and that’s where a lot of their goals have come from in recent matches. We need to make sure we don’t give them any space to get crosses into the box,” said the Brazilian.

“But we won’t win by just defending. We have to try to settle into our rhythm, play our passing game and make our opponents do all the running.”

With Miyamoto out and Italian-based midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata unavailable, the Brazilian coach has decided to hand Junichi Inamoto the captain’s armband on his return to the national team after a six-month absence.

Inamoto is still trying regain full match fitness on the way back from a broken leg sustained in Japan’s 1-1 draw away to England in June but Zico said he has complete faith in the West Bromwich Albion midfielder.

“Inamoto is at the stage where he just has to get more games behind him and I think he is ready. Germany are a tough team and although he is not 100 percent I believe he will give a good performance.”

Inamoto and Takashi Fukunishi are joined in midfield by Toshiya Fujita and Mitsuo Ogasawara. Takayuki Suzuki and Naohiro Takahara spearhead the attack.

Seigo Narazaki has been given the nod in goal ahead of Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi.

Germany will be playing Japan for the first time on what is the first leg of its three-nation Asian tour.

After Thursday’s match, the Germans will play South Korea in Busan on Dec. 19 and Thailand in Bangkok on Dec. 21.

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