TOKYO - Asian champions Japan are bracing themselves for a tricky examination from North Korea in a politically charged 2014 World Cup qualifier on Friday set to be played in typhoon conditions.
North Korea coach Yun Jong-su insisted the visitors had nothing to fear and would give Japan all they could handle in the Group C opener in Saitama.
"It will be a very difficult game for us tomorrow against very strong opponents," Yun told reporters. "However, we have the heart and fighting spirit to beat them."
Matches between the two rivals are usually always stormy encounters, while the approaching typhoon could prove a useful equaliser for North Korea.
Looking unflappable, Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni, unbeaten in 11 games since taking charge of the Blue Samurai, kept his answers short and to the point.
"We have to control the match for the full 90 minutes," said the Italian, who led Japan to a record fourth Asian Cup title in Qatar in January.
"I trust in my players to do the job. North Korea played at the  World Cup so they have some pedigree. But our form is fantastic recently so I'm confident we will go out and win."
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are the other two teams in the group but all the attention will be on the showdown in Saitama.
Japan's matches against North Korea have frequently been played against a backdrop of political tension relating to World War II, North Korea's nuclear ambitions and the kidnapping of Japanese citizens.
It had been feared Friday's game would have to be pushed back by 24 hours because of the weather.
"We would prefer a decent pitch in good conditions," admitted Zaccheroni, who has lost talismanic midfielder Keisuke Honda through injury for the game.
"But we have options and the ability to adapt. This is where the pressure really starts but the players are up for this."comments