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Japan and Iraq play for Group D honors at Asian Cup

January 15, 2015

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Japan and Iraq, champions of the last two Asian Cups, go head-to-head Friday in a match that will likely determine top spot in Group D. In the other match, Jordan takes on tournament newcomer Palestine at Melbourne.

Here are some things to watch:

IRAQ vs. JAPAN (0900 GMT): The winner will advance to the knockout stage after both teams opened with contrasting wins.

Japan coach Javier Aguirre again had to field questions on the eve of the important match about an investigation into match fixing in Spain, but refused to comment on anything other than football. He said he was only talking to the media, and to his team, about the Asian Cup.

Former Mexico coach Aguirre, who was hired in August to replace Alberto Zaccheroni at Japan, became embroiled in a match-fixing probe launched by Spain’s state prosecutor dating back to a match between Zaragoza and Levante in May 2011. Aguirre, who was an official at Zaragoza, denies any wrongdoing but the ongoing case has been swirling in the background since the end of last year.

“Tomorrow we await a big, competitive game against Iraq,” he said. “They play very good football, and they have very good players. Both teams have three points. We’ll have a big fight against them (and) the winner will pass the group stage. We’re expecting a very intense match.”

Japan opened the tournament with a 4-0 thrashing of Palestine, easing off in the last 40 minutes. Iraq had to work hard for its 1-0 win over Jordan.

But Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil said the Japan-Palestine result wasn’t a genuine indicator of form because of the vast difference in the caliber of the teams.

“The first match against Jordan was a good result and gives us an advantage in this competition,” Shenaishil said. “I think the advantage is that, after our win against Jordan, the Japanese team will look at Iraq in a different way given the history between the two teams. I hope we don’t make too many mistakes in this match and come out of it with a positive result.”

Shenaishil said Iraq had no injury concerns, and had the kind of players who could match it with Japan’s Europe-based stars.

“We have outlined certain points with certain players for the game and if the players put these points into practice, we should come up with a positive result,” he said.

The countries have only met once at the Asian Cup, when Japan won 4-1. And the Japanese have won their last three internationals against Iraq without conceding a goal. Four-time champion Japan will be aiming to win its first two games of the Asian Cup for the first time since 2004, while 2007 winner Iraq has never won back-to-back to open the tournament.

Japan veteran Yasuhito Endo described the Iraq squad, led by veteran striker Younis Mahmoud, as “a wonderful team.”

“We will respect them, but we want to show them everything we have,” Endo said.

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JORDAN vs. PALESTINE (0700 GMT) : Jordan is unbeaten in seven international games against the Palestinian team, which qualified for the continental championship for the first time by winning the AFC Challenge Cup.

Jordan went close against Iraq, but squandered chances in the attacking third that could have turned the game and slumped to its sixth consecutive loss.

“We have to win two games — we have to beat Palestine and we have to beat Japan,” Jordan coach Ray Wilkins said. “It is going to be very difficult for us but we are looking forward to it immensely.”

Palestine coach Ahmed Al Hassan said his team had been working relentlessly in the pursuit of three points against Jordan.

“All I can say is our response will come on the field,” he said. “We are responsible for what we say and what we do within the match.

“Japan are one of the best teams in the tournament, they are the best in Asia, they’ve won the tournament four times and we know that very well.”

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