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Friday, Dec. 3, 2004

Okada plays down injuries before final

Yokohama F. Marinos manager Takeshi Okada insists the absence of first-choice strikers Tatsuhiko Kubo and Ahn Jung Hwan has not affected his preparations for this weekend's J. League Championship final.

First-stage winner and defending J. League champion Yokohama is in the midst of an injury crisis ahead of the two-leg championship final kicking off against the Urawa Reds at International Stadium Yokohama on Sunday.

Japan international Kubo has been suffering from a niggling lower back problem, while South Korea striker Ahn fractured a bone in his right ankle in a World Cup qualifying match last month and also misses out.

The versatile Yoo Sang Chul is also unlikely to feature in Sunday's first leg, while midfielder Akihiro Endo is out with a torn calf muscle.

"Having some injured players is a small thing now. It's not a big problem," Okada said.

"This year the whole season we have had many players injured because in the first stage we had so many games with the Asian Champions League and the A3 (East Asian Champions Cup). We are the No. 1 injury team," he quipped.

"Ahn and Kubo can score goals but we don't need many goals. If we were starting the season now it would be a difficult situation but there are only two games and we only need one or two goals."

Yokohama has suffered a dip in form in the run-in to the championship final, losing 2-1 at home to Albirex Niigata before wrapping up the season with a 0-0 draw at Tokyo Verdy last Sunday.

Second-stage winners Urawa, meanwhile, finished on a stage-record 37 points and 40 goals scored from 15 games after closing with a 1-0 win at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

New deal for Ardiles

Osvaldo Ardiles will continue to manage Tokyo Verdy next season after signing a new contract running through January 2006, officials of the J. League first-division side said Thursday.

The 52-year-old former Shimizu S-Pulse and Yokohama F. Marinos boss has endeavored to transform Verdy since taking over in June last year, bringing through youngsters such as 16-year-old striker Takayuki Morimoto as Verdy finished ninth in both the first- and second-stage standings.

"Next year will be a year of challenges for us and I believe we can aim for the top," Ardiles told reporters.

Meanwhile, Verdy announced the acquisition of ex-Brazil international Washington, 29, on a full transfer from Brazil's Atletico Paranaense.

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