Bonn: Japan won’t be intimidated by Australia’s taller players in its World Cup opening match. Japan will be playing in its third straight World Cup against a team that is making its first appearance in 32 years. Japan coach Zico said on Saturday his players aren’t worried about Australia’s height advantage.

Zico and his players know how important it is to secure three points in the Group F opener on Monday. A loss or a draw would be a big setback for Japan before it faces two tough opponents — Croatia and Brazil. Many feel a win over Australia could propel Japan into the second round. Japan advanced to the round of 16 four years ago. Anything less than that this time will be considered a disappointment for a team that has a huge following back home. One key for Japan will be avoiding fouls that result in set plays for the larger Australians.

“There’s no doubt Australia has a good team,” said Japan midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura. “But we’ve worked hard and are ready for this match.” Japan looks almost certain to go with Naohiro Takahara and Atsushi Yanagisawa at forward. If either is unable to start because of injury, Keiji Tamada would likely get the call.

With Nakamura, Hidetoshi Nakata, Shinji Ono and Mitsuo Ogasawara, Japan has what is considered the strongest midfield in Asia. Defenders Yuji Nakazawa, captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and Keisuke Tsuboi will face a daunting task of keeping Australia forwards Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka in check. Under coach Guus Hiddink, Australia ended a 32-year absence by beating Uruguay with a dramatic playoff win. Hiddink, the Dutchman who led South Korea to the semis in 2002, is considered to be one of the top coaches is soccer. — AP

Italy want strong start

Duisburg: For months, Italy coach Marcello Lippi has had his focus on one game. Forget about the other Group E games against the US and the Czech Republic, he kept saying. The most important thing is to start strong.

“The first game is the most important one. It determines how you approach the second game and then that game determines the approach for the third,” Lippi has said over and over again in a sort of mantra since the draw came out.

Ghana boasts a roster with several players from Europe’s top leagues and will be making its World Cup debut. “The pressure is on them. We have nothing to lose,” said striker Matthew Amoah, who plays for Borussia Dortmund.

Ghana coach Ratomir Dujkovic has no injuries to worry about, with Chelsea’s Michael Essien and former Juventus player Stephen Appiah in midfield.

Italy looked unimpressive in two warmup draws against Switzerland and Ukraine last week. The team appears unsettled by Lippi’s reluctance to commit to a starting lineup. Lippi said he won’t decide until matchday whether to start Francesco Totti or Alessandro Del Piero.

Totti is the preferred option in a playmaker role behind forwards Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni — the 1 in a

4-3-1-2 formation. If Lippi decides that Totti needs more time in his recovery from left leg surgery, he’ll likely start Del Piero on the left wing, alongside Gilardino and Toni in a 4-3-3.

Lippi noted Ghana’s improvement since the African Cup of Nations and said “they have five or six players that you really have to watch out for.” — AP