Japan struggling to prepare

The defending champions have had a poor preparation according to coach Ivica Osim.

    Ivica Osim, second from left, is already lining up the
    excuses ahead of Japan's title defence [EPA]

    Japan, defending Asian Cup champions, are struggling against time, fatigue, problematic weather and coach Ivica Osim's frustration to peak for their first match of the tournament against Qatar in Hanoi on Monday.
    "You'd better become realists. My job has no choice but to be done in real conditions," a fired up Osim said when asked if his squad were ready for their campaign to win a third straight continental crown.

    The Bosnian alluded to Japan's domestic J-League season which only shut down a week ago after playing two matches every week since its kick-off in March, meaning he hasn't had full access to all but two of his 23 players.

    "If I don't know about the players' conditions, it will be an insult to J-League managers. If you think I can readjust their conditions in three days, it will be an insult to me."

    Japan are in Group B with 2006 Asian Games winners Qatar, 2007 Gulf Cup champions United Arab Emirates and joint-hosts Vietnam in a tricky group based in Hanoi.

    Osim, who led the former Yugoslava to the 1990 World Cup semi-finals, fielded all his players, including Celtic's Shunsuke Nakamura and Frankfurt's Naohiro Takahara, in a training match with a local army club on Friday night which Japan won 3-0.

    "I told them to give 100 per cent and see for themselves how much they can do in these conditions. Ask them how much they played in this weather," said the curt 66-year-old.

    Tough conditions

    The evening practice match was played in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius with 80 per cent humidity, just one day after the Japanese trained in typhoon rain only 20 hours after their arrival from Tokyo.

    "We learned that the weather was tougher than expected," Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, Japan goalkeeper, said.

    "It gave us a very good incentive.

    "It is quite humid. The pitch is unique with Southeast Asian grass and is very hard to play on," added the 31-year-old.

    "We are recovering our physical strength quite a lot. It is indeed tough and cruel to play in this heat without preparation but we are taking one step at a time to do what we can," Kawaguchi added.

    The grass is greener

    Japan, who won the Asian Cup in 1992, 2000 and 2004, will play all their group matches at the My Dinh National Stadium where players have had differing opinions on the state of the pitch.

    "The grass felt like a kind of weed," Nakamura, the Scottish Player of the Year, said.

    "The ball floats over it when you make a strong pass or trap."

    However fellow Japan midfielder and Gamba Osaka star Yasuhito Endo disagreed.

    "The ball runs well if you kick it hard."

    Vietnam take on the UAE in the opening Group B match in Hanoi on Sunday, while Japan face Qatar the following evening


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