• Kyodo

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Japan boss Vahid Halilhodzic says his players are fatigued but determined to defend the East Asian Cup ahead of their opening match of the four-team tournament against North Korea on Sunday.

Japan’s Europe-based stars are absent as the tournament falls outside of the official FIFA international calendar, meaning clubs are not obliged to release their players.

So Halilhodzic plans to use the tournament to test several untried players after naming a J. League-based squad.

“The players are tired but they are motivated and ambitious,” the former Algeria coach told a news conference on Friday. “I told the players let’s go and win also at a meeting last night.”

Japan drew 3-3 with China in their opener in the 2013 tournament and went on to lift the trophy after 3-2 and 2-1 wins against Australia and South Korea, respectively.

“It was not easy winning the tournament last time,” said defender Masato Morishige. “It will be even more difficult this time.”

Japan has seven wins against four draws and six losses against North Korea.

Halilhodzic’s men face South Korea on Wednesday before wrapping up the tournament against host China four days later.

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