Okada plays down Japan World Cup troubles

April 22, 2008

TOKYO, April 22 (Reuters) - Japan coach Takeshi Okada has dismissed accusations his side are in crisis and predicted they will reach the final round of 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

Okada's second spell in charge of Japan has been plagued by indifferent form, culminating in a 1-0 upset defeat by Bahrain in Manama last month.

But while Japan's media continued to splash 'crisis' headlines across the back pages, a defiant Okada said his team would quickly overcome their recent wobbles.

'The qualifiers will be absolutely no problem,' the diminutive coach told Tuesday's Japanese media. 'I'm looking carefully at the players I need for each fixture.'

Japan take on Ivory Coast and Paraguay in friendlies next month ahead of four World Cup qualifiers in June, including the return game with Bahrain in Saitama on June 22.

Several Japan players admitted to being confused about Okada's tactics in their Manama defeat which left them three points behind Bahrain in their Asian qualifying group.

Oman are also on three points after two games while Thailand are bottom of the standings after consecutive losses. The top two teams advance to the final qualifying stage.

Okada's problems have not been helped by injuries to key players with senior trio Naohiro Takahara, Keita Suzuki and Yuji Nakazawa notable absentees from Japan training on Monday.

Okada took the Japan job for a second time last December after his predecessor Ivica Osim suffered a life-threatening stroke.

The Bosnian has since recovered and is set to be offered an advisory role at the Japan Football Association.