asia qualifying

Nakamura gets rare chance to shake off jet lag

February 5, 2009

Japan playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura arrived in Tokyo on Thursday for next week's World Cup qualifier with Australia after being given special permission by Celtic.

Usually, the 30-year-old barely has time to exchange greetings with his international team mates after flying in for Japan games a day or two earlier, his body clock still on GMT.

But with Celtic at home to second division Queen's Park in the Scottish Cup at the weekend, Nakamura was released for next Wednesday's clash with Australia in Yokohama, giving him a rare chance to recover from jet lag before playing for his country.

"I'm grateful to be able to get in even a day earlier," Nakamura told Japanese media on arrival at Narita Airport. "It gives me extra time to train and communicate with the team."

Nakamura insisted Japan would be underdogs against the Australians, who lead their group in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

"Australia are above Japan in terms of ability," said Nakamura.

"But it's a must-win game for us. We will definitely need to be at our best to beat them."

Japan's fear of conceding goals at set pieces against the physically stronger Australians has been heightened by further slip-ups in their last two games.

Bahrain's goal in their 1-0 win over Japan in an Asian Cup qualifier last week and Finland's consolation goal in Wednesday's 5-1 thrashing by the Japanese both came from corners.

"We know Australia will have a big target man and look to play off him," said Nakamura, fit to play after struggling with a groin strain. "We will need to be very careful.

"Coming back this early gives me the opportunity to talk about tactics in detail with my team mates and to make sure we're all on the same page."

Australia lead Group One in the final round of Asian World Cup qualifiers with a perfect nine points from three games, two points ahead of second-placed Japan.

The top two from each of the two five-team groups will qualify automatically from Asia for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.