| More clinical finishes needed from Nakata
Paris, June 21 (Reuters): Defending champions France will be looking to secure top spot in Confederations Cup Group A when they entertain New Zealand at the Stade de France Sunday.
The French are the first side through to the last four after hard-earned victories over Colombia and Japan. They lead the table on six points, while Japan and Colombia, both on three points, meet in a decisive match in St Etienne.
Top spot would assure France of a semi-final at the Stade de France against the second team in Group B, avoiding another trip away from their training camp of Clairefontaine.
French coach Jacques Santini will have to reshuffle his starting line-up after a tough game against the Japanese in St Etienne Friday left several players tired or injured.
“France must win, but we will have to spare some players. (Midfielder) Jerome Rothen sustained an ankle injury.
“Robert Pires — who captained France for the first time — is exhausted while Ousmane Dabo finished the match with cramp. The one-day break will be what we badly need.”
Santini will have to do without defender Willy Sagnol and goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, two key players in the side’s defensive set-up. Sagnol was sent off in injury time in the last game, while Barthez is about to become a father.
This could give youthful Nantes goalkeeper Mickael Landreau the opportunity to earn his second cap.
Meanwhile, battle-weary Japan take on Colombia in another Group A match in St Etienne, adds a report from Lyon. Both sides need to draw on all their physical and mental resources for a third match in five days, though the greater pressure will be on Colombia, who need a win to progress.
The problem facing Japan coach Zico and his Colombian counterpart Francisco Maturana is that both have relied heavily on the same key players — and are now obliged to gamble.
Japan, the more impressive looking of the two contenders, have fielded identical starting line-ups for Wednesday’s 3-0 win over New Zealand and Friday’s hardly deserved 1-2 defeat by France.
In particular, they have counted on Shunsuke Nakamura, scorer of three of their four goals, skipper Hidetoshi Nakata, scorer of the other, and Junichi Inamoto provide a tough but creative midfield.
Colombia, who made only one change to the side who lost 0-1 to France for their 3-1 comeback win over 10-man New Zealand, have similarly counted on key figures.
Central defenders Mario Yepes and skipper Ivan Cordoba have been the defensive rock on which Colombia’s game is based, while playmaker Giovanni Hernandez provides the creative spark going forward.
“My guys proved they could play wisely and with a lot of patience,” said Maturana, whose side will probably need to be similarly patient Sunday.
For Japan, a repeat of their performance against France and more clinical finishing from Nakata would do them a world of good.