North Korea v Japan: Halilhodzic to unearth new faces

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Defending East Asian Cup champions Japan kick-off their title defence against North Korea in Wuhan, China on Sunday.

Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic plans to use the East Asian Cup to test a number of untried players when they take on North Korea on Sunday.

Halilhodzic's men return as defending champions for the sixth edition of the regional four-team competition and will open the tournament against minnows North Korea at Wuhan Sports Center Stadium.

As the tournament falls outside of the official FIFA international calendar, clubs are not obliged to release players, meaning Japan's European-based stars are absent.

Halilhodzic's 23-man squad is made up entirely of players plying their trade in Japan, with nine debutants included after midfielder Naoyuki Fujita and goalkeeper Yuji Rokutan replaced Yosuke Kashiwagi and Shuichi Gonda.

Despite being presented with a rare opportunity to oversee talent in competitive action, Halilhodzic is keen to retain the East Asian Cup.

"I want to play as many players as possible, and they need to show off strong mentality with courage, determination and aspiration to win because the competition takes place on the road," said Halilhodzic.

"I think the opponents will challenge us very hard on one-on-one situations, but we also need to handle it, committing ourselves to physical contacts. We will try to win and bring back the trophy."

Halilhodzic, whose team is undefeated in four matches since the Asian Cup in January, added:  "I'm looking forward to new findings. Pursuing a good outcome, I'm trying to find a new force at the same time, and it's a good test for players playing in Japan."

North Korea, who have won three consecutive international fixtures, booked their spot in the final competition as group winners in the preliminary second round.

Led by coach Kim Chang-bok, North Korea upstaged Hong Kong (2-1) and Guam (5-1), and drew with Chinese Taipei (0-0) to progress to the tournament proper for the first time since 2008.