FRANKFURT – Japan is bracing for a backlash from European champion Greece in its Confederations Cup clash on Sunday and coach Zico has warned his players to be prepared for an aerial onslaught in Frankfurt.
Greece will be looking to restore pride after being taken to pieces by Brazil in a 3-0 defeat in its Group B opener on Thursday, when Japan came back to earth with a bump after going down 2-1 to Mexico in Hanover.
Japan, which entered the tournament on a high after becoming the first team to join host Germany at next year’s World Cup finals with victory over North Korea on June 8, looked jaded against Mexico and was undone by a 64th-minute header by Jose Fonseca.
A second defeat for Japan would likely eliminate the Asian champion from the eight-team competition as it faces rampant Brazil in its final match in Cologne on June 22.
Zico, who is without his best and tallest defender Yuji Nakazawa through injury, admitted that his side had trouble defending high balls against the Mexicans and has warned that similar mistakes against the robust Greeks could lead to Japan’s downfall.
“We have to be careful of high balls into the box because any mistakes against a team like Greece could prove fatal,” said Zico.
“My tallest defender hasn’t come with us and Japanese players in general have a height disadvantage. It was a header that eliminated Japan from the 2002 World Cup,” added the Brazilian, referring to Umit Davala’s goal in the 1-0 defeat by Turkey in the second round.
“The most important thing is not to give away corners or free-kicks in dangerous positions. I’ll be showing the players what Greece is capable of and we will work out how to deal with it.”
Goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi admitted the World Cup qualifying campaign and jet lag had affected Japan’s performance against Mexico.
“The players were tired against Mexico and didn’t move well. We had jet lag because we moved to Bahrain and Thailand and have had a long trip.
“But we are getting used to being here so maybe we will be better than in the last game.
“The Greece game is one we can’t afford to lose because if we do we won’t be able to advance, but a win might give us a chance of making the semifinals.”
Greece, already without Traianos Dellas, has other injury concerns after Giourkas Seitaridis hobbled off injured at halftime against Brazil.
Meanwhile, captain Theo Zagorakis also misses out as he has to return to Italy to play Bologna in its Serie A relegation playoff on Saturday.
Coach Otto Rehhagel said he is not underestimating Japan but expects his team to come away with three points.
“We know Japan is mentally very strong and physically very good so it won’t be easy, but we know we can beat them.”
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