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Japan Feels Right at Home in Advancing

June 15, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now that the World Cup has spent the last two weeks discovering Japan, is the World Cup ready for Japan in the quarterfinals?

Philippe Troussier, the Frenchman who coaches the Japanese team, was talking about a trip to the final eight Friday after watching his squad defeat Tunisia, 2-0, in Osaka to clinch first place in Group H.

"To qualify for the second round was our main aim but we don't think this is the end of things," Troussier said.

"We are not tired, we have more to give, we are fresh and on home turf. We are calm, we are on our way, we want to achieve good things."

And, what he didn't say: Japan has a second-round match against Turkey.

Beat Turkey on Monday in Miyagi--Japan will be favored--and the co-hosts, having never won a World Cup match before 2002, will be in the quarterfinals.

"Against Turkey," Troussier said, "I think that with our 12th man, the home crowd, we can hope for many more things."

Japan has had a charmed path from the outset, being seeded into the flimsiest group in the competition, matched against Belgium, Russia and Tunisia--and needing only to out-point two of them to reach the second round. Japan obliged, going undefeated in the group at 2-0-1, wrapping up first place with a victory over 0-2-1 Tunisia.

After a scoreless first half, Hiroaki Morishima gave Japan the goal it needed by pouncing on a loose ball in the Tunisian penalty area and delivering past goalkeeper Ali Boumnijel from 10 yards. Hidetoshi Nakata made it 2-0 in the 75th minute by heading in a cross from Daisuke Ichikawa.

"Today, we feel very rewarded for our efforts," Troussier said.

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