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Japan no longer has World Cup fate in own hands
Facing elimination, Japan needs help from Greece _ and perhaps above _ to advance in World Cup
By JOJI SAKURAI
Associated Press
2014-06-22 06:22 AM

ITU, Brazil (AP) -- The religious cult "Science of Happiness" visited Japan's training camp Saturday to support the World Cup team: "Open The Way With Positive Thinking," read a banner they left by the road.

Maybe the Japanese group is trying to help bring the help from above that the national team needs to get through to the knockout stages of the World Cup.

On the brink of elimination, Japan needs a goal rush against an impressive Colombia lineup and rely on Greece taming the so-called "Les Elephants" of Ivory Coast in Monday's last Group C matches. The Japanese no longer have their fate in their hands following a 2-1 loss against Ivory Coast and a 0-0 draw against Greece.

Coach Alberto Zaccheroni gave the team the day off Saturday to help prepare mentally for the enormous task ahead.

"The reason isn't physical," Zaccheroni told reporters, explaining his unexpected decision to cancel practice. "It's to help the team find the right balance in their approach to the next match."

Qualifying for the knockout stages will be like threading a needle, but Japan may have two factors going for it. Colombia has already qualified and probably won't be firing on all cylinders for the Japan match; the Central Americans may even be tempted to rest players. On the other hand, Greece -- at the bottom of Group C -- are also still barely in the tournament and so have every reason to come out hard against Ivory Coast.

Zaccheroni said Japan has done its homework on Colombia -- but not too much homework. He stressed that the key is playing Japan's style instead of trying to adapt to their opponents, precisely the trap his players fell into in the last two matches.

"We can't focus too much on the adversary's characteristics," Zaccheroni said, "but rather exploit our own."

Japan star Shinji Kagawa was a surprise omission from the starting lineup against Greece, and is desperate to return for the last group game.

"We need to turn things around mentally," the Manchester United midfielder said. "In the first two games, we didn't get a result and everyone is concerned about it. But as long as we're alive, we're not going to give up."

Zaccheroni would not comment on whether Kagawa would start on Monday: "I won't talk about individual players, because the problem isn't individual players. It's the balance of the team."

Defender Yuto Nagatomo, who plays for Inter Milan, said Japan needs to rediscover its killer instinct in front of goal.

"With so many chances (against Greece)," said Nagatomo, "if we had converted them, the match would have been different. We're in this situation now because we weren't able to score."

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