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Japan uncomfortable with being favourites

28 June 2007 10:30

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan coach Ivica Osim admits it won't be easy to clinch a third straight Asian Cup as tournament favourites, but has urged his team to rise to the challenge.

"Every team hates to be called favourites. It's like drawing a joker in a card game," said the 66-year-old Bosnian, who led the former Yugoslavia to the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals.

"As the winners of the last two tournaments, Japan have no choice but to be seen as favourites," he told reporters following a a four-day training camp outside Tokyo.

"It doesn't make us feel good. Our opponents will come out as challengers."

Japan are drawn to play Gulf Cup champions United Arab Emirates, Asian Games winners Qatar and Vietnam, one of the four co-hosts.

Along with Japan, Australia, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia are seen as strong contenders for the trophy.

"Only a few of this national team have experienced the last two tournaments. I have selected talented players. I want them to seize this opportunity to become a great team," Osim said.

He has named a provisional 30-strong Asian Cup which will be reduced into a final 23 after the J-League shuts down on Saturday for the July 7-29 continental tournament.

Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura and Franfurt striker Naohiro Takahara are the only two of the dozen Japanese playing in Europe to be selected.

The squad includes veterans of the last two triumphs -- Nakamura, whose left-foot kicks powered Celtic to a second straight Scottish Premier League title, former Portsmouth goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi and Yokohama Marinos centre-back Yuji Nakazawa.

Osim has been forced to drop key Brazilian-born centre-back Marcus Tulio Tanaka and another defender Hiroki Mizumoto due to injuries.

"The Japanese national team are not a side which will collapse without them," said the Bosnian. "We must look at the players who are still here. Then we will become a better team."

Gamba Osaka defender Akira Kaji added: "No doubt that the competition will be hard at the Asian Cup. Asian countries move with compact plays and they have speed and toughness.

"There is a growing number of European coaches who make the game more sophisticated."

Aside from Osim, Frenchman Bruno Metsu coaches the UAE and Qatar are led by Dzemaludin Musovic who was Osim's assistant in the former Yugoslavia's World Cup squad in 1990. Austrian Alfred Riedl guides the youthful Vietnam side.

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