Former hero Zico plots an upset against Japan

Former hero Zico plots an upset against Japan

SINGAPORE - Agence France-Presse
Former hero Zico plots an upset against Japan

The Iraqi national team coach Zico has a special place in the hearts of Japanese football fans, having led the Blue Samurai to the 2006 World Cup finals and to 2004 Asian Cup victory. EPA photo

Former Japan coach Zico will bid to lead Iraq to its first win over the Blue Samurai in 30 years today, in a World Cup qualifying fixture with haunting memories for Japanese fans.

The Brazilian legend coached Japan at the 2006 World Cup and led the team to victory at the 2004 Asian Cup, giving him valuable insights into Japanese football which will stand him in good stead at Saitama Stadium.

But Zico is well aware of the challenge facing Iraq, who have not reached a World Cup since 1986. Table-topper Japan is brimming with talent including CSKA Moscow playmaker Keisuke Honda and Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa.

“Japan are one of the superpowers in Asia and have bags of quality,” Zico acknowleged, after arriving in Japan on Sunday. “There are a lot of players in the team that can score goals so we have to watch out for all of them.” 

‘Not invincible’ 

“If people will recall, Uzbekistan beat Japan in Japan,” he said. “There’s no reason to think we cannot do the same.” 

“There are no secrets in the modern game. You can’t keep anything up your sleeves any more. The important thing is to play as hard as we can and get the most out of our potential.” 

Zico will take heart from Japan’s lackluster 1-0 friendly win over United Arab Emirates last week, when Mike Havenaar scored the only goal and Kagawa failed to shine before being withdrawn at half-time.
History may also be on Iraq’s side after its only previous World Cup qualifying clash against Japan in October 1993, which Japanese supporters ruefully refer to as the “Agony of Doha.”

On that occasion, a stoppage-time equalizer by Jaffar Salman in the Qatari capital resulted in a 2-2 draw that sent South Korea and Saudi Arabia through to the 1994 finals at the expense of the Japanese.

The two teams have not played each other since a Tokyo friendly in 2004, which Japan won 2-0. Iraq’s last victory over Japan was a 1-0 win in the 1982 Asian Games.

Australia, meanwhile, will hope last week’s 3-0 friendly victory against Lebanon is a sign of things to come as the Socceroos go in search of their first win, away to Jordan.

Australia is looking to reach a third consecutive World Cup but the team has only two points so far after draws against Oman and Japan.

In Group A, leaders South Korea will try to stay on maximum points when it visits Tashkent to face Uzbekistan.

The Taeguk Warriors are eyeing an eighth consecutive World Cup appearance and recently beat Qatar 4-1 and Lebanon 3-0 in June. South Korea also won Olympic bronze in August.