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Soccer News of Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Source: Shintaro Kano / Daily Yomiuri Sportswriter

Nakata Made Appiah go to Japan

Ahead of the 2010 World Cup, national coach Ivica Osim is keen on pitting his team against as many tough opponents as possible.

For making Wednesday night's friendly against Ghana a little more worthwhile, he may just have to thank none other than Hidetoshi Nakata.

Concerned about the long trip to the Far East from Turkey, Ghana captain Stephen Appiah said he was considering pulling out of the Japan game, but met with the retired Nakata a couple of weeks ago in Istanbul.

The two were teammates at Serie A club Parma several years ago. Appiah, who now plays for ex-Japan manager Zico at Fenerbahce, said it was Nakata who convinced him to make the trip to Japan for the match this evening at Nissan Stadium.

"I was with Hide Nakata two weeks ago, he came to Istanbul because we played together in Parma," Appiah said of the former Japan international, who has been traveling around the world under the public radar since his stunning retirement after Germany.

"We were talking about Japan, and I told him that it's too far, that I don't know if I can make it. He said, 'No, no, you have to go because it's a nice country.' He's right, what he said."

The hard tackling midfielder said he was surprised to learn that Nakata had hung up his boots for good. "He's 29, and I tell him, 'Where you playing?' He said, 'I quit.' I said 'Why? You are still fit, you have to continue playing.' He said, 'No, no, no I'm tired of playing.' I'm a little bit astonished," Appiah said.

Appiah, the heart and soul of the Ghana team that advanced to the second round this summer from a tough Group E including eventual champion Italy, the Czech Republic and the United States, said the Black Stars are not here on vacation. With a reputation now to live up to, Ghana, under new leadership in coach Claude Le Roy, must take each match seriously to stay among the world's elite.

In its first World Cup appearance, Ghana was the only African side to make it out of the group phase. Apart from his skipper, Le Roy has called upon Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, Udinese forward Asamoah Gyan and Rennes defender John Mensah. Osim has not selected a single player based in Europe, and will go with an all J.League squad for his fifth match in charge.

"We have to look up at the FIFA rankings now," said the 25-year-old Appiah, whose team was eliminated 3-0 in the Round of 16 by Brazil. "We're going up so we have to maintain it. So we're not here to lose. Tokyo, Yokohama is a nice city, but we're not here for that.

"We are here for business. I think tomorrow, we are going to the game to play our hearts out."

A serious test is exactly what Osim is looking for.

"We wanted to face a tough opponent, tough enough so that even if we lost, it would not be embarrassing," said Osim, who has been close friends with Le Roy for decades. "It had to be a team in which all of their players are in Europe, a team which is on the rise.

"It is not interesting to play a team which Japan can beat so easily. Then again, there aren't too many teams we can."

(Oct. 4, 2006)