Japan carries Asian hopes in Cup

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Japan carries Asian hopes in Cup


Japan’s head coach, Takeshi Okada, center, instructs his players during a training session in George, South Africa on June 26. [REUTERS/YONHAP]

President Lee Myung-bak will be rooting for the lone Asian team left standing at the 2010 World Cup, Korean officials at a Group of Eight summit in Toronto, Canada, said yesterday.

With Korea losing 1-2 to Uruguay in their Round of 16 match on Saturday night, Japan is the only Asian team remaining in the tourney. Asian football fans will be focused on Japan’s Round of 16 match against Paraguay in Pretoria on Wednesday (Korea time).

“Korea lost to Uruguay today but as the lone Asian representative at the World Cup, I hope Japan can defeat Paraguay to advance to the quarterfinals,” Lee was quoted as saying to the new Japanese premier Naoto Kan.

However, an optimistic Kan is already thinking several steps ahead. According to Japanese officials, Kan told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he was hoping for a final featuring Japan and Germany.

Until this year, Japan’s best finish at the World Cup was in 2002 when it lost 0-1 in the Round of 16 against Turkey at home. Hopes are high for the Blue Samurai as they prepare for their first Round of 16 on foreign soil.

Having advanced out of Group E with the record of two wins and one loss against the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon, the well-organized and defensive squad scored four goals and allowed two in the group phase. The Blue Samurai are confident and riding strong momentum after a convincing 3-1 win over Denmark in their final group stage match.

The 2010 World Cup experience has been filled with extremes for the Japanese manager Takeshi Okada. Okada boldly stated in late January that he would take his team to the semifinals at the 2010 World Cup. Referring to Korea’s run to the semifinals in 2002, Okada was quoted on the FIFA Web site as saying: “I said I wanted to shock the world. If Korea reached the semifinals, then why can’t we?” Okada was lambasted by the Japanese media and fans when his team struggled down the final stretch of friendly games leading up to the World Cup, which included a 2-0 loss to Korea at home.

The Paraguayans, who flash a quick brand of football, finished at the top of its group with a record of a win and two draws against Slovakia, New Zealand and Italy, scoring three goals and allowing one in the process.

Paraguay holds a narrow lead in the two teams’ previous matchups with the record of two wins, three draws and one loss. In the latest injury report, Paraguay will have Antolin Alcaraz and Jonathan Santana return to the lineup after missing their final group stage match due to injuries. Alcaraz suffered an ankle injury against Slovakia and did not dress for the match against New Zealand. Santana missed the game due to a pain in his leg.

By Jason Kim [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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