Japan seek elusive win against Greece

Associated Press

Frankfurt, June 18:

Japan’s 2-1 loss to Mexico on Thursday left its players wondering if they will win a single match at the Confederations Cup. Next up for Japan is European champion Greece, and both teams know defeat could end their chances of reaching the semi-finals of the eight-nation event. Mexico was regarded as the easiest opponent in Group B. And after playing Greece on Sunday, it gets even more difficult for Japan — World Cup holder Brazil is waiting. “We can only hope and think positive,” said Japan goalie Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi. “Greece is a very important match. If we lose, we may not win a match, but if we win, we can still reach the semis.” The last time Japan failed to win a game at a major event was at the 1998 World Cup, its debut at soccer’s premier event.

Japan’s problems will be dealing with the Greek’s height advantage, which the Greeks also use effectively on set plays. Japan may be able to take advantage of Greece’s defensive problems, which are mounting after Thursday’s 3-0 loss to Brazil. That came a week after a 1-0 home defeat to Ukraine dented Greece’s chances of reaching the World Cup. Despite injuries, coach Otto Rehhagel says his team can rebound against Japan. If not, Greece may leave without a victory with Mexico up next. The top two teams from each of the two groups advance to the semi-finals. Germany and Argentina are the favorites in Group A. “We have some solutions. We have some players who were sitting on the bench who we will have to use against Japan on Sunday,” Rehhagel said. Captain Theo Zagorakis, voted best player at last year’s Euro Championship, was picked for Bologna’s Italian league relegation playoff against Parma and is unlikely to play. Forward Ioannis Amanatidis may also miss the match after training on Friday with his thigh heavily taped.