Iraq coach Zico has been forced into selecting an untried line-up for the tough World Cup qualifier against Japan after his team failed to secure any warm-up friendlies.
The former Brazil star, who led Japan to Asian Cup glory in 2004, said he was taking “risks” after making wholesale changes to his squad, and then being unable to give them a run-out during last week’s international window.
“I had to drop players who couldn’t find a club to play for, and we also lost three players during our training camp in South Korea,” Zico said in Saitama, where Iraq will face the Blue Samurai on Tuesday.
“I’ve also included seven from the Olympic team and I basically picked the fittest and most technical players available.”
“I’m aware of the risks of having changed so many players and there’s no denying we have not had enough games leading up to this match,” he added, according to Kyodo news agency.
“We haven’t played together since July and I’m not happy we weren’t able to fix anything on official FIFA match days. But I’m still convinced our young players will step up because they have what it takes.”
The 2007 Asian Cup winners play all their ‘home’ fixtures on foreign soil for security reasons, complicating attempts to find opposition for friendlies. Japan reclaimed the Asian title last year to be the region’s top-ranked team.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni also faced selection headaches because of fitness concerns after the start of the European season. A number of his players are also suspended.
“I’m still not sure who to pick for a few positions because of the fitness of some of the players,” the Italian said. “It’s hard to tell what kind of condition players are in sometimes at the start of a season.”
Japan are riding high with a five-point lead in Group B in the final round of Asian qualifying for Brazil 2014.
Iraq have not beaten Japan since 1982 but they denied them a World Cup berth with a last-gasp 2-2 draw in Qatar in 1993, dubbed the ‘Agony of Doha’ by Japanese fans.