• Kyodo


Iraq coach Zico said Japan is not as invincible as people think, pointing to Uzbekistan’s defying the Asian champions in the previous round of World Cup qualifying.

Through three games in this round, however, Japan have been in a class by itself with seven points, five ahead of Iraq and Australia. Alberto Zaccheroni’s side has scored 10 goals while conceding just one.

But Zico, who’s never faced a game he doesn’t think he can win, does not believe Japan already has three more points in the bag. He referred to Uzbekistan’s 1-0 victory in February at Toyota Stadium over a full-strength team as proof that where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“If people will recall, Uzbekistan beat Japan in Japan,” the Brazilian great said on the eve of Iraq’s World Cup qualifier Tuesday against Japan in Saitama. “There’s no reason to think we cannot do the same.”

As for playing in Japan, Zico said his men are never at a disadvantage away because Iraq has not had a home game in its war-torn country in years.

“This team has never been able to play at home so the crowd does not affect us,” he said. “Japan are obviously a very strong team as everyone knows, but hopefully we can contain them.”

“There are no secrets in the modern game. You can’t keep anything up your sleeves any more. The important thing is to play as hard as we can and get the most out of our potential.”

Zico has changed close to half his squad since its last qualifying match, a 1-1 draw with Oman in Doha on June 12, and was unable to fix any warm-ups in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s game.

He admits that drastic change presented a risk, but said it gave him the best chance of a win against Japan.

“I had to drop players who couldn’t find a club to play for, and we also lost three players during our training camp in South Korea,” Zico said. “I’ve also included seven from the Olympic team and I basically picked the fittest and most technical players available.”

“I’m aware of the risks of having changed so many players, and there’s no denying we have not had enough games leading up to this match.”

“We haven’t played together since July and I’m not happy we weren’t able to fix anything on official FIFA match days. But I’m still convinced our young players will step up because they have what it takes.”

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