Hasebe out Okazaki iffy for key Japan match

Long-time captain Makoto Hasebe will miss Japan’s final World Cup warm-up match with an injury and playmaker Shinji Okazaki is doubtful due to illness, coach Alberto Zaccheroni said on Thursday.

On the eve of the Asian champions’ friendly with Zambia, the Italian said Mainz forward Okazaki has a fever after going from hot and humid outdoor conditions to the chill of hotel air conditioning.

“Even if he doesn’t play tomorrow, it doesn’t affect his overall condition,” Zaccheroni said through a translator.

Hasebe, believed to have a leg injury, did not play in the Blue Samurai’s 3-1 victory over World Cup-bound Costa Rica on Monday and the 30-year-old defensive midfielder, who plays for relegated Bundesliga side Nuremberg, will sit out the match on Friday.

“He is a key player but he is now injured and is in rehabilitation and I don’t want to rush him to recover,” Zaccheroni said. “Hopefully he recovers quickly. We’re trying to get him back for the first match of the World Cup.”

Japan will open their campaign against Ivory Coast on June 14, meet fellow Group C rivals Greece five days later and face Colombia on June 24.

Yasuyuki Konno, who started and played 61 minutes against Costa Rica, will again start the match as Hasebe’s replacement but others might get a chance as well.

“We have many players who can play in different positions so we have more options,” Zaccheroni said. “We will change depending on how the game goes.

“If they play in their positions, I expect 100 percent. If they play a different position I expect 70 to 80 percent.

“We have changed positions in different games and had good results so it’s not a good idea to fix the players at one position.”

AC Milan forward Keisuke Honda was captain in Hasebe’s place for the Costa Rica match and he and Manchester United striker Shinji Kagawa played 90 minutes on Monday, something they might not do again as Zaccheroni tries to help other players reach match fitness ahead of Saturday’s flight to Brazil.

“I haven’t decided yet but they are getting in better shape,” Zaccheroni said of Honda and Kagawa. “Player condition is the priority.

“I will have some players who have not played enough playing as many minutes as possible. I’ll substitute players according to the game.”

Zambia, the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations winners, figure to provide a good test ahead of Japan’s match with Ivory Coast.

“I think they are more athletic,” said Zaccheroni. “We will focus on our game plan and concepts and react to our opponents and their game plan.”

Zaccheroni hinted he will use a 4-2-3-1 alignment in Brazil, saying, “That is our best formation. We may start with that formation.”

Japan’s first target is to reach the World Cup knockout stages for the second successive finals after they lost to Paraguay on penalties in the round of 16 in South Africa.

“We will be well prepared and go as far as possible,” Zaccheroni said.


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