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UPDATED: 15:12, July 28, 2004
Asian Cup preview: Iran face tough task to play Japan
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Suspension-depleted Iran will face a formidable task when they take on Japan in the crucial final Group D match of Asian Cup tournament on Wednesday.

Iran need at least a draw against the title holders Japan to qualify for the knockout stage, while a big loss could send them home provided Oman beat Thailand in the match that will take place simultaneously in Chengdu.

"Every match I prepare to win and this match is no different," Iran head coach Ivankovic stated proudly at a press conference the night before the meeting between the three-time champions and the current Asian Cup holders.

"Of course if we win tomorrow we definitely qualify to the next stage but as you all know we have three players suspended. So in that respect I have to arrange a new team. I have 24 hours to make a decision on what will be the best for our team," he said.

With defenders Mohammad Nosrati, Ali Badavi and Rahman Rezaei certain absentees after the AFC rejected Iran's appeal against their suspensions following the controversial 2-2 draw with Oman, the last thing Ivankovic needed was problems in other departments of his side.

But with question marks over influential skipper Ali Daei, who has been carrying an ankle injury since Iran's opening group D match against Thailand, and fellow striker Reza Enayati suffering a bout of sickness at Tuesday's training session, he may have to patch up his forward line as well as his defence.

"If Ali Daei doesn't play then that will be a big loss for our team," said Ivankovic. "I know Ali very well and he will do everything he can to be ready and now there is also a problem with Enayati."

The Croat, who led Iran to a gold medal winning victory over Japan in the 2002 Asian Games, was reticent when asked about what particular formation his remaining players would adopt when they take on a Japanese side free of injury and suspension worries.

"When you consider changing formations there are many factors involved but we have lost three, maybe more, players so naturally there will have to be changes," he said. "Modern football today cannot be written down on paper and then stuck to exactly on the field. You cannot play with too many attackers and you cannot play with too many defenders.

"Yes, we have lost three defenders and that is a problem I must face, but I cannot overlook the attack," Ivankovic added.

Defensive stalwart Yahya Golmohammadi will be expected to bring cohesion to Iran's patched up defence, which could see Sayed Mohammad Alavi take up the central position vacated by Rahman Rezaei.

Olympic star Eman Mobali may also start while Ivankovic has the option of fielding Sattar Zare in place of the attack-minded Ali Badavi on the left.

While Japan are already assured of a spot in the last eight, the defending Asian Cup champions will be keen to avoid defeat against the Iranians in order to remain in Chongqing for a quarter-final meeting with Jordan. A loss would mean second place in Group D and a trip to Jinan to face in-form South Korea.

Zico, head coach of Japan, threw down the gauntlet after their 4-1 win over Thailand claiming his side would beat Iran in their final group game. "We will win next game in order to stay in Chongqing where we have got used to the environment. We want to play our quarterfinal here."

Japan captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto has singled out Iran's mercurial attacker Ali Karimi as their main individual threat and the man who could make the difference on Wednesday.

"It is imperative that we don't allow Ali Karimi too much possession of the ball as he is the Iran player who is most likely to punish us," said Miyamoto following Japan's final training session on the eve of the match.

Miyamoto also called for his defensive teammates not to be complacent when it comes to free-kicks and corners. "Iran are a tall, physical side and they are very dangerous at set-pieces," he said referring to the Persians'injury-time equalizer when Mohammad Nosrati got on the end of a Mehdi Mahdavikia free-kick.

"But if we defend as well as we have defended in our past two matches then we should be able to get the result," he concluded.

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