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Japan favourites for Kirin Cup

© Reuters Limited 2001

By Alastair Himmer

TOKYO, June 26 (Reuters) - Japan will start as favourites to win this year's Kirin Cup, which kicks off in Tokyo on Thursday. With Yugoslavia and Paraguay naming inexperienced squads for the three-nation tournament, the Asian champions will be looking to continue their recent progress after finishing runners-up in the Confederations Cup earlier this month. Japan coach Philippe Troussier has kept faith with most of his Confederation Cup squad and, despite losing Tomokazu Myojin and Kenichi Uemura through injury, the Frenchman knows he has plenty of talent in reserve.

Veteran Kashima defender Yutaka Akita and Gamba Osaka's Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, a target for West Ham earlier this year, were told to report for duty on Monday night. Troussier has chosen to rest playmaker Hidetoshi Nakata, who contributed to AS Roma's first Serie A title since 1983 this season, and must again do without the injured Hiroshi Nanami. Feyenoord-bound Shinji Ono and Gamba's Junichi Inamoto, reportedly on his way to Arsenal, will again form the backbone of Japan's five-man midfield, where Paraguay-based Nozomi Hiroyama is also set to win his first cap. Hiroaki Morishima of Cerezo Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse's Kazuyuki Toda, who made an impressive debut for Japan in the Confederations Cup, can also expect to keep their places in the middle.

Up front, Troussier is again without first-choice striker Naohiro Takahara because of injury and could opt to play Kashima pair Atsushi Yanagisawa and Takayuki Suzuki, who scored both goals in Japan's 2-0 first-round win over Cameroon. Yokohama's Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi is favourite to retain the goalkeeper's jersey despite the howler that presented Patrick Vieira with the winner as France beat Japan 1-0 to win the Confederations Cup final.

In front of Kawaguchi, Troussier is likely to stick to a well-tried trio at the back featuring Ryuzo Morioka, Naoki Matsuda and either Toshihiro Hattori or Koji Nakata in the hope that Japan can maintain the defensive solidity they showed en route to the final. Paraguay, currently second in the South American World Cup qualifying group, will rest key players.

But extrovert goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert has been selected and should play in Thursday's opener against Yugoslavia. Nagoya Grampus Eight striker Dragan Stojkovic, meanwhile, is coming out of international retirement for his swansong with Yugoslavia in the country he has resided in for seven years.

The Kirin Cup will also give organisers another opportunity to assess preparations for next year's World Cup, with co-hosts Japan's two matches being played in Sapporo and Oita, two of the country's 10 venues for 2002. Japan will take on Paraguay at Sapporo Dome on Saturday before facing Yugoslavia at Oita Stadium on July 4.

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