• Kyodo


Japan midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata sought Thursday to silence the murmurs of discontent in the Japan camp ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Iran and insists all is calm as he prepares to play his first international in almost a year.

Coach Zico has named the Serie A playmaker as captain of the national side for the Group B clash in Tehran and decided to deploy an unfamiliar 4-4-2 system that has caused concern for certain players in the squad.

But Nakata, who last played for Japan in the first round of qualifiers March 31 last year against Singapore, says he feels as if he has never been away and insists the players are happy with whatever formation they play.

“I don’t feel anything strange because the members are almost the same (as the last time),” Nakata said after Thursday’s final tuneup.

“I don’t care about the system, the important thing is how we play. We play with 11 players. We don’t care about the system, 3-5-2 or 4-4-2. We just believe in ourselves.”

Japan has struggled with a four-man midfield in the past and only just scraped by Oman and then Singapore before Nakata was sidelined with a serious groin injury and back problems.

Japan was forced to switch to 3-5-2 in his absence and enjoyed a turn of fortunes, but Nakata insists that the lack of time the players spend together before international matches is the reason they find it difficult to adjust.

“We have always had this kind of problem because we haven’t had enough time. All the time we play together we have only had three days or four days, even this time, so we will figure it out,” he said.

Gamba Osaka defender Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, regular captain in the absence of Nakata, on Wednesday questioned Zico’s decision to switch to 4-4-2 as the full squad has only practiced it together over the last few days.

“Each of the players has their own opinion about this but we are not used to playing that system and I don’t think it can be effective in such a short space of time,” Miyamoto said Wednesday.

A crowd of around 100,000 is expected at Azadi Stadium in what will be one of Japan’s toughest games in the final round of qualifiers, but Nakata says it will be no different to any other match.

“It won’t be only this match, all the matches will be the same,” he said.

Japan is two points clear of Iran in Group B following its 2-1 win over North Korea last month. Iran drew 0-0 with Bahrain, Japan’s next opponent March 30.

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