Principal Correspondent

BANGALORE: The Japanese football team, the Asia Cup holder, reached the city late on Sunday night and was accorded a warm welcome. Though Japan has left its Europe based players behind, the 2002 World Cup pre-quarterfinalists look ominous.

The 30-member team with its support staff and retinue of media entourage have virtually hogged The Chancery Pavilion, its home for the next three days at Residency Road.

The team's head coach Ivan `Ivica' Osim carries a reputation that's bigger than the team. The Bosnian born Yugoslav is an imposing figure and had a three-a-half-year stint with JEF-Chiba United Club in Japan.

He needed a translator to speak to the press here ahead of the away match of the AFC Cup qualifier against India on Wednesday.

With five World Cuppers in the squad, Osim has a wealth of talent and experience to fall back on, but he does not underestimate India.

Good progress

"I have watched the home match against Japan and also the video clippings of India's match against Saudis. India have progressed well and have big-match potential. It sure is going to be a good match sans any rough play hopefully."

On Japan's preparation, Osim said: "We played a good friendly game against Ghana early this month. The same players will be doing duty here too. Though we lost by a solitary goal, we learnt a lot from the defeat."

On leaving out the Europe based players for this match, he said: "They are established players and we know what they are capable off. We want to try out our juniors and fringe players. Our goal is the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and we need to develop youngsters for the job."

On Wednesday's match the coach said: "Both teams will be playing without any pressure. While we play our free flowing natural game, I expect India to play its normal game. It should be a good contest."

Different strategy

Meanwhile, his Indian counterpart Bob Houghton is busy plotting a special strategy to take on Japan. "It's going to be a lot different than what we employed against the Saudis. If we believe in ourselves and play as we did against the Saudis in Jeddah for the first 30 minutes, then we can probably get a good result," he said.

"It's going to need a high-effort performance from our boys. But with the 4-4-2 strategy we should be able to get a good result," he said.

"Four games without a point sounds pretty bad but then all the three teams are placed much higher than us. The matches against Japan at home and Yemen away on Nov. 15 will be tough," he said.

Houghton may try a few tactical changes in the midfield with Pradeep set to play alongside Venkatesh, who missed out on the last tie. The coach will bring in Sanjiv Maria as a left stopper back and Deepak Mondal in the middle while N.S. Manju and Surkumar Singh will play at the wings.

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