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Saturday, Jan. 28, 2006

Japan has nine on slate

Japan will play nine games in the runup to the World Cup finals in Germany kicking off on June 9, the Japan Football Association announced Friday.

Japan will open its 2006 schedule on Feb. 10 with a friendly against the United States in San Francisco, followed by a friendly at home to Finland in Shizuoka on Feb. 18 and an Asian Cup qualifier against India in Yokohama on Feb. 22.

Zico's men will then get the feel of a World Cup venue when they meet Bosnia-Herzegovina on Feb. 28 in Dortmund, site of Japan's first-round match against Brazil scheduled for June 22.

After welcoming fellow World Cup qualifier Ecuador in a March 30 friendly in Oita, Japan will play two Kirin Cup matches at home in May before warming up for the World Cup with two friendlies in Germany, including a friendly with host Germany in Leverkusen on May 30.

Another warmup friendly with a World Cup qualifier is being planned for early June.

"This match schedule helps us make good preparations for the World Cup," Japan coach Zico said.

"The games in May will hold the key because we can field full-strength teams and what's important is how we'll increase our fitness level then." Japan, co-host of the 2002 tournament with South Korea, will make its third straight World Cup appearance in Germany.

Japan will kick off its World Cup campaign in Group F with a meeting with Australia in Kaiserslautern on June 12 before moving to Nuremberg to play Croatia on June 18 and then to Dortmund for a match with five-time champion Brazil four days later.

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