• Kyodo


Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi has urged coach Zico to keep faith with striker Keiji Tamada and midfielder Mitsuo Ogasawara for the Asian champions’ crucial 2006 World Cup qualifier against North Korea on Wednesday.

Zico has picked a squad made up mainly of local players, while drafting in overseas-based stars Shunsuke Nakamura of Reggina and German-based striker Naohiro Takahara for the first of Japan’s final-phase qualifiers in Group B.

Kashiwa striker Tamada, one of Japan’s heroes at the Asian Cup in China last summer, and Kashima Antlers playmaker Ogasawara both impressed in the recent friendlies against Kazakstan and Syria but it is Nakamura and Takahara who are set to go straight into the starting lineup at Saitama Stadium 2002.

Kawaguchi, however, thinks Zico should make full use of the talents of Tamada and Ogasawara for Japan’s qualifiers on home soil rather than call up players like Nakamura and Takahara, who he suggests would be better kept for Japan’s tough away trips.

“The manager decides the team but I think they (Tamada and Ogasawara) should play. They put in good performances in the last two games and are motivated and in good condition,” Kawaguchi said.

“Takahara and Nakamura will have jet lag. It’s difficult. I have had the same experience and it’s very, very tough. If they come to Japan from Europe they will be very tired,” said Kawaguchi who recently returned to the J. League to join Jubilo Iwata after spells in England and Denmark.

Asked if he thought Zico should save the overseas players for the trips to other Group B opponents Iran and Bahrain and give Ogasawara and Tamada the chance to prove their worth at home, he replied, “I think so. All the players are at a good level now, the substitutes too.”

Zico is a big fan of Nakamura and there is no doubting the quality of the set-piece specialist. But Takahara has hardly lit up the Bundesliga since his move to Hamburg SV and his recent performances for Japan have been nothing to write home about.

Tamada, meanwhile, has looked more than comfortable in his “little and large” double act with rugged striker Takayuki Suzuki and staked his claim for a place in the starting lineup against the North Koreans with a double strike in the 4-0 win over Kazakstan.

Playmaker Ogasawara also had a solid outing in the Kazakstan game, capping another industrious performance with a late goal in Wednesday’s win, and hopes to get a run in the first team.

“I’d been hoping I’d get a goal (against Syria),” he said. “I know if he (Zico) picks me I’ll get better and better. I just want to play.”

For the North Korea game, Zico has decided to leave out Italian-based midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata and Feyenoord star Shinji Ono, who have both just returned to action after injuries.

Junichi Inamoto, who played a pivotal role in helping Japan reach the second round of the 2002 World Cup finals, is fit again after recovering from a broken leg and performing well on loan at Cardiff City but has been somewhat surprisingly overlooked.

Japan captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is not surprised at Inamoto’s exclusion and believes that players like Yasuhito Endo and Takashi Fukunishi have proved they deserve the chance to fill the holding midfield positions.

He told Kyodo News: “I think the rest of the players, especially those in the midfield positions, can play well now and collectively we have found a good balance. There is no problem.

“Zico has changed his mind and we have complete confidence even without the foreign-based players.”

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