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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stojkovic hints at cameo on pitch

OSAKA (Kyodo) Nagoya Grampus manager Dragan Stojkovic on Monday hinted at coming out of retirement — for one night — to deal Japan its first ever defeat under Alberto Zaccheroni.

News photo
Rolling back the years: Nagoya Grampus manager and former player Dragan Stojkovic may lace up his boots once again for Tuesday night's charity match. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

"If Kazu (Miura) can play, so can I," Stojkovic said at Nagai Stadium in Osaka, where his J. League select team will face the national side on Tuesday in a charity match to aid the victims of the March 11 quake and tsunami. "We're the same age."

The 46-year-old Stojkovic is just two years older than Yokohama FC forward Kazuyoshi Miura, who is one of 20 players picked to take on the Asian champion.

Japan is unbeaten in eight games since Zaccheroni took over after the World Cup last summer, lifting a record fourth Asian Cup in January in Qatar.

Stojkovic's team features six former J. League MVPs, seven counting the coach himself who won the honor in 1995 with Grampus.

The Serbian believes his team has enough quality to stun Zaccheroni's side as the world tunes in for Japan's first premier sporting event since the disaster struck 17 days ago.

"Why not? Because I think my players are very motivated for tomorrow's game," said Stojkovic, who led Nagoya to its first J. League championship last season. "It's possible, why not? We know this is a charity game but definitely both teams are trying to win.

"Personally, I'm honored and privileged to lead this team in the charity game. Defensively, we have enough good players to play well."

Stojkovic knows about coping with tragedy, having gone through the wars in his native Yugoslavia. The former Red Star Belgrade and Marseille playmaker feels a sense of fate that his adopted home country has also been hit by disaster.

"It's my destiny," Stojkovic said. "It's both a big tragedy. Different type, but the result is the same so I hope it never happens again and the situation will stabilize as soon as possible.

"The only difference is we had the civil war there and here it's a completely natural disaster. And the people could stop the war, but not the tsunami. This is the difference, the tsunami was too strong."

Nagatomo ready

OSAKA (Kyodo) Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo has been cleared by coach Alberto Zaccheroni to play Tuesday in Japan's charity match at Nagai Stadium.

Nagatomo had missed the last two days of training after coming down with a bad cold upon arriving home from Italy, but was back legging it out in Monday's workout.

"I trained today because I expect to play," Nagatomo said on the eve of the Asian champions' homecoming against Dragan Stojkovic's J. League select team. "I'll be OK."

Zaccheroni said Nagatomo will be joined on the pitch by Stuttgart striker Shinji Okazaki, who managed to recover in time from gastroenteritis.

"I will see how they respond in the morning after training for the first time today, but I'm counting on them to be ready," Zaccheroni said.

Nagatomo drew huge cheers from the 13,000 fans who turned out for Monday's practice ahead of what will be Japan's first game since winning a record fourth Asian Cup in January.

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