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To the bitter end

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

To the bitter end

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CUIABA, Brazil (AP) — Japan’s players insisted yesterday they will fight to the bitter end as long as they have a shred of a chance to advance to the knockout stages of the World Cup in today’s final group stage game against Colombia.
“We’re betting everything on this next match,” Japan striker Shinji Okazaki told reporters. “We’re going to give it everything we can.”
To advance, Japan need to defeat Colombia and hope that Greece can subdue Ivory Coast.
To fulfil their side of the bargain, Japan need to do one thing: rediscover a killer instinct in front of goal. Japan had their fair share of chances in the 2-1 loss to Ivory Coast and an abundance of them in its 0-0 draw with Greece, but an inability to convert has left the Blue Samurai on the brink of elimination.
In the run-up to the World Cup, Japan under Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni honed a fluid attack to cure a history of ineptitude before the net. It was defence that was Japan’s problem. In Brazil, the old habit of poor finishing has come back to haunt Japan.
Pressure has played its role.
“We can’t be thinking too much, ‘this is the World Cup’,” said Okazaki. “We just have to do what we’ve been doing up to now.”
Veteran striker Yoshito Okubo, who fluffed a golden opportunity in Japan’s match against Greece, said he’ll go back to the basics in the next match.
“I just need to position myself before goal,” said Okubo. “Up to now that hasn’t worked well. I just need to keep putting the ball forward.”
Zaccheroni remained coy about whether he would start Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa, a surprise omission from the Greece match.
“Let me repeat what I answered before, it doesn’t depend on a certain player or attacker,” said Zaccheroni. “It depends on the ensemble, on the whole team.”
If Japan ate eliminated, at least the Asian champions may have the consolation that their fans made an impression on the world by cleaning up their garbage after each match – even if their team fell short.
“I think what they have done is something that makes us very proud,” said Japan captain Makoto Hasebe.