| Uruguay’s Alvaro Recoba warms up during practice in Tokyo on Thursday. (AFP)
Tokyo: Japan coach Zico has warned his players that nothing short of victory will do against Uruguay on Friday after coming up short in their last two matches.
Any doubts over the seriousness of the re-arranged friendly in Tokyo were quickly dispelled on Thursday when Zico, who has kept faith with Parma midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata as captain, challenged his squad to “stand up and be counted”.
“We have had more time to practice for this game and the spirit among the squad is first-rate. The players are in the mood to beat Uruguay,” Zico said.
“There is no need for me to remind the players what it means to represent Japan. I expect them to respond to what will be a very good test from Uruguay — simple as that.”
The Brazilian added: “The attitude among the squad is exemplary but they know they have to stand up and be counted.”
After a 1-1 draw against Jamaica and a 2-0 defeat by Argentina last year, Japan are hoping it will be third time lucky under Zico, who has included seven European-based players in a near full-strength squad.
Nakata, Junichi Inamoto (Fulham), Shinji Ono (Feyenoord) and Shunsuke Nakamura (Reggina) are set to start in midfield with Naohiro Takahara (Hamburg SV) and Takayuki Suzuki (Genk) in attack.
But Zico, ever sensitive to the wishes of club managers, acknowledged he may be forced to use his overseas players sparingly. “The clubs might not want me to risk them for the full 90 minutes, so some of them may be limited to 45 minutes. The main thing is for them to play together regularly,” he said.
Despite his relaxed demeanour, however, Zico vowed that he would read the Riot Act to any player who failed to meet his high standards against Uruguay.
“There is no need for me to lay down the law. But if there are signs that someone is not pulling his weight, his place will be in danger — no matter who he is,” said Zico. “The discipline comes from knowing that it would be very, very hard to win your place back in this Japan team and that sort of competition keeps the players motivated.”
Uruguay, still without a full-time coach, arrived in Japan on Wednesday, the day the match was originally due to be played in San Diego, California.
Japan pulled out of that fixture — and the friendly with the United States in Seattle three days later — due to the risk of terror attacks in response to the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Interim coach Gustavo Ferrin has included Manchester United striker Diego Forlan and Inter Milan forward Alvaro Recoba among an otherwise experimental Uruguay squad.