3 free kick specialists give Japan World Cup edgeJun 28, 2010 - 8:05 AM By JEROME PUGMIRE AP Sports Writer
KNYSNA, South Africa(AP) -- Paraguay will have to be extra wary of giving away free kicks against Japan in their World Cup round of 16 match on Tuesday - the Japanese boast no fewer than three set-piece specialists.
Star forward Keisuke Honda and midfielder Yusuhito Endo both scored against Denmark from long range, while coach Takeshi Okada can also call on substitute winger Shunsuke Nakamura, who scored on brilliant free kicks during his time with Celtic.
Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi thinks Japan may struggle with Paraguay if it gets into a physical game, and smart set pieces could be a way to get around that disadvantage.
"It will only get more difficult as we advance. Paraguay have strong players, good technique, and good organization. So it will be a tough match," he said. "Free kicks are a strong point for us. It's very important for us to get free kicks near their penalty area."
Japan will reach the quarterfinals for the first time if it beats Paraguay in Pretoria.
Okada's tactics are likely to change from the group stage, switching from a more open style to a counter attack, designed to lure Paraguay up the field and use Japan's speed and skill on the break to win shoot or get free kicks in dangerous areas.
Honda and Endo punished Denmark that way in their final Group E game, which Japan won 3-1 to qualify for round two.
Nakamura has been sparsely used so far at this World Cup, making only a substitute's appearance in the 1-0 defeat to the Netherlands. But he is arguably even more dangerous than Honda and Endo off set pieces.
The 32-year-old Nakamura was adored by Celtic fans in his four seasons there from 2005-09, when he scored 33 goals in 164 games, many on set pieces. In his second season, Nakamura scored free kicks home and away against Manchester United - including one from 30 yards.
Midfielder Junichi Inamoto, a 30-year-old veteran of three World Cups, says Okada knows exactly how to play to the team's strengths, giving Japan a solid base with a defense well led by Marcus Tulio Tanaka.
"We're an experienced team, and we know how things work in a World Cup," Inamoto said. "Physically speaking we're at our best. Our defense will be crucial, and it's been working really well."
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