Japan players rally round Aguirre

Mexican coach backed by Japan squad’s big names as match-fixing probe overshadows Asian Cup preparations.

Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa is one of the senior players to have spoken out in support of his coach [GALLO/GETTY]
Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa is one of the senior players to have spoken out in support of his coach [GALLO/GETTY]

Japan’s senior footballers have leapt to the defence of their under-fire head coach Javier Aguirre, who again denied any involvement in a match-fixing case that continues to overshadow their Asian Cup preparations.

The Mexican was among 41 people named by Spain’s anti-corruption prosecutor in court this month following a probe into Real Zaragoza’s 2-1 win at Levante on the final day of the 2010-11 campaign. The victory ensured Zaragoza, then coached by Aguirre, avoided relegation.

It led to suspicions the Japanese Football Association might remove Aguirre but they stuck by the coach they appointed in July and said he would lead them at the January 9-31 Asian Cup despite the ongoing investigation.

The JFA stance has failed to quell the questions from outside the camp for Aguirre as he prepares his side for Group D matches against Palestine, Iraq and Jordan.

However, the former Atletico Madrid manager said his 23-man Japan squad were only interested in winning a record-extending fifth Asian Cup after they met up for training.

“He has said he didn’t do it, so he didn’t do it,” Japan’s most capped player Yasuhito Endo was quoted in Kyodo News on Monday.

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa echoed the sentiment.

Follow the leader

“We have just got to concentrate on defending the Asian Cup. We have to believe what the coach has told us and follow his lead,” the former Manchester United player said.

On Saturday, Aguirre told reporters in Tokyo that he was innocent.

“I worked in Spain for 12 years and have never done anything unethical or unprofessional,” he said. “The only way to win matches is through effort.

“I have never been given gifts by anybody and never expected them. I will cooperate with authorities and defend myself until the end.”

Aguirre said he offered the same explanation to his squad and gave them opportunity to ask any questions about the matter.

Japan captain Makoto Hasebe said he was happy to continue working with the Mexican.

“The coach spoke directly to us and because of that his words will stick in our minds,” he said on Monday.

“It is important that the players and the coach have mutual trust. The coach loves soccer and that is the same for all of us and he said he would never betray soccer. We love soccer too, so those words got through to us.”

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