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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nakamura's absence not a concern for Okada in Bahrain game

Staff writer

Japan takes the field with an entirely home-based team against Bahrain for its second 2010 World Cup qualifier on Wednesday, but manager Takeshi Okada is confident his side is strong enough to do the business.

Okada called up only one overseas-based player for the match in Manama — Eintracht Frankfurt's Junichi Inamoto — but the midfielder was forced to withdraw with a thigh injury last week.

Celtic playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura was left off the squad, with his club in action against Gretna on Sunday and again this weekend at title rival Rangers.

Okada had hoped to add the midfielder to his squad had the match against Gretna failed to go ahead. Gretna is currently in administration, and a cloud had been hanging over whether the Borders club would be able to fulfill its fixtures for the rest of the season.

Last week, administrators ruled that the club could play on, and Nakamura turned out for 90 minutes as Celtic duly won 3-0.

Okada is nevertheless happy with the players he has at his disposal.

"I have chosen players who I expect will be OK regardless of the circumstance," he told Japanese reporters at the team's training camp in Dubai.

The manager is toying with the idea of a three-man defensive line, which could see Hiroki Mizumoto line up alongside Yuji Nakazawa and Yuki Abe.

"I haven't decided on whether to play three or four at the back yet. Be sure to tell that to Bahrain," he told reporters.

A three-man back line might ease the burden on defensive midfielder Keita Suzuki, who former Urawa Reds manager Holger Osieck recently admitted was exhausted after a long unbroken stretch of action.

Suzuki played at last year's Asian Cup in Vietnam during the J. League summer break, then for Reds at the December's Club World Cup before linking up with the national team for January's friendly matches and February's East Asian Championship in China.

Striker Keiji Tamada, on the other hand, will be raring to go after returning to the international fold after an absence of almost two years.

Tamada's last game was against Brazil in the 2006 World Cup, a match in which he scored, and the Nagoya Grampus Eight frontman gives Okada a rare left-footed option in attack.

The manager may, however, opt to keep his strike force of Naohiro Takahara and Yoshito Okubo unchanged from February's 4-1 opening World Cup-qualifying win over Thailand, or use Takahara as a lone striker.

"Their defenders are big and tough," Takahara said, "but if you play intelligently you have a chance."

Euro warmups set

LONDON (AP) The 16 teams at this year's European Championship continue their preparations for the summer showpiece when they take part in a round of international friendly matches on Wednesday.

It's one of the last chances for coaches to figure out whether players will fit into their squad before they select their final roster for the June 7-29 tournament in Austria and Switzerland.

And even players who won't be at the tournament have something to play for. David Beckham is hoping to make his 100th international appearance when England, which failed to qualify, plays at injury-hit France.

Brazil and the United States also visit Europe — playing Sweden and Poland, respectively.

In other matches between qualified teams, it's: Spain vs. Italy; Switzerland vs. Germany; Austria vs. Netherlands; Romania vs. Russia; and Portugal vs. Greece. Also, the Czech Republic is at Denmark, Croatia plays at Scotland and Turkey goes to Belarus.

Spain coach Luis Aragones called up Getafe midfielder Ruben De La Red into a largely unchanged squad for its match at Elche but also dropped FC Barcelona striker Bojan Krkic.

De La Red replaces David Albelda, who was left out by Aragones despite playing in Spain's 1-0 win over France in February. Barcelona defender Carles Puyol returns from injury, while Mallorca's Fernando Navarro was also called in to anchor the backline.

Real Madrid striker Raul Gonzalez — Spain's all-time leading scorer with 44 goals in 102 games — appeared no closer to returning in time for Euro 2008 after being left off again.

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