SOCCER: Iraq's Zico promises Japan a fight on return

September 11, 2012

REUTERS

SAITAMA, Japan--Iraq coach Zico is bracing himself for an emotional return to Japan for his side's World Cup qualifier in Saitama on Sept. 11 but firmly believes the Asian champions can be beaten.

The former Brazil great, who coached Japan from 2002-06, said his team would try to tear into the home side right from the kickoff.

"Uzbekistan beat Japan if you remember," Zico told reporters, referring to the former Soviet Republic's 1-0 win in Japan in the third round of Asian World Cup qualifying.

"There is no reason why we can't," added the 59-year-old after zipping in free kicks during training to the undisguised awe of his Iraqi players.

"We all know Japan are an excellent team but we are confident we can get a result."

The Blue Samurai lead World Cup qualifying Group B by five points from Iraq.

"Japan has been a big part of my life and it's great to be back. It will be emotional. If I had the choice, I wouldn't be in the same group," Zico added.

"But that's football. It's an emotional and passionate sport. I have prepared my team to beat Japan. That is what being a professional is."

Japan overpowered Oman 3-0 and Jordan 6-0 at home before being held 1-1 in Australia in June in their first three games in the final round of Asian 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

"Obviously Japan are a very technically gifted team, especially players who control the midfield like (Makoto) Hasebe and (Yasuhito) Endo," said Zico.

EXTRAORDINARY KAGAWA

"You can't give players like Hasebe and Endo space to get their heads up," added Zico, who has been forced to pick seven Olympic players with so many of his squad not match-fit.

"You have to be pressing them all the time. I had to drop players currently without clubs and we have injuries to others but I trust them to do a job because they have the ability."

Japan, coached by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, captured a record fourth Asian Cup last year, while war-torn Iraq pulled off a stunning triumph at the previous tournament in 2007.

"Japan are the best team in the group. Zaccheroni has them playing a very attacking style," said Zico, who guided Japan to victory at the Asian Cup in 2004 in China.

Zico picked out several Japan players who could expect special attention, including Endo and Shinji Kagawa.

"Kagawa is an extraordinary, world-class player," purred Zico on the subject of Manchester United's pre-season signing.

"He's a team player but he can finish too. He plays with his head. We'll be extra cautious of him."

"Endo makes Japan tick. The ball always ends up at his feet, like a magnet."

However, Zico warned Japan to expect a scrap after watching them struggle to beat the United Arab Emirates 1-0 in a warm-up last week.

"I am confident of getting a result," he said. "Mental toughness will be the key."

REUTERS
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Iraq's coach Zico attends a press conference on Sept. 10, a day before World Cup qualifier against Japan, in Saitama, Japan. (Yosuke Fukudome)

Iraq's coach Zico attends a press conference on Sept. 10, a day before World Cup qualifier against Japan, in Saitama, Japan. (Yosuke Fukudome)

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  • Iraq's coach Zico attends a press conference on Sept. 10, a day before World Cup qualifier against Japan, in Saitama, Japan. (Yosuke Fukudome)

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