Japan coach Takeshi Okada has talked up Monday's pre-FIFA World Cup™ clash with Asian rivals Korea Republic, saying pride is at stake as both teams gear up for next month's South African showpiece.
Japan are seeking revenge for their embarrassing 3-1 home defeat to their neighbours in the East Asian championships in February, adding extra spice to the clash in Saitama. Okada said after a training session Sunday that the two sides would face each other with all their overseas-based players for the first time in probably 12 years.
"In this sense, the match will be very meaningful," said Okada, whose target of reaching the semi-finals in South Africa has raised eyebrows. "After the defeat in the East Asians, we must really stake our pride and fight."
He compared Korea's strengths to those of Cameroon, whom the Blue Samurai face in their opener in Bloemfontein on 14 June in Group E, followed by games against the Netherlands and Denmark. Okada has been ordered by Japan Football Association president Motoaki Inukai to beat Korea Republic "no matter what" after Japan -- without their overseas stars -- lost to a second-string Serbia 3-0 at home in April.
Korea captain and Manchester United winger Park Ji-Sung is aware of the stakes in Monday's challenge, saying: "We will have more feeling [against Japan] than in other friendly games."
All eyes on Honda
Korea Republic coach Huh Jung-Moo said he would use as many players as possible in a bid to boost their fitness. Okada will be counting on four Europe-based players -- rising CSKA Moscow star Keisuke Honda, Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe, Grenoble midfielder Daisuke Matsui and Catania striker Takayuki Morimoto -- to add firepower. Recent J-League returnee, former Celtic star and dead-ball specialist Shunsuke Nakamura is also available.
"I see their midfielders as dangerous," said Huh. Korea Republic, who reached the 2002 World Cup semi-finals at home, boast in their ranks Lee Chung-Yong, Bolton Wanderers' player-of-the-year, Park Chu-Young of AS Monaco and Celtic's Ki Sung-Yueng. Huh added he would use Monaco striker Park, who has just come back from a right thigh injury. "I want him to regain his touch in the game. I will have him play, if not for long," he said.
The Koreans, appearing in their seventh straight World Cup, open their 2010 campaign against Greece in Port Elizabeth on 12 June in Group B, which also includes Argentina and Nigeria. In Saitama, all eyes are expected to be on Honda, who in January moved to Moscow from Dutch side VVV Venlo. He has emerged from Nakamura's shadow with his midfield prowess and helped CSKA reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time.