Tulio fit to help Japan combat Aussies

TOKYO - Japanese concerns over Australia's extra size and strength should be eased by the return of defender Tulio for next week's World Cup qualifier in Yokohama.

Japan's Brazilian-born hard man, who has just returned from knee surgery, said he was fit to partner Yuji Nakazawa in the centre of defence as the home side look to combat Australia's aerial threat.

"There's absolutely no problem with the knee," Tulio told Japanese media on Sunday. "I need to get a game under my belt so I want to play the full 90 minutes against Finland."

Japan face the Finns in Tokyo on Wednesday in a warm-up for their 2010 World Cup qualifier against the Socceroos, a game they can ill afford to lose.

Australia top Group One in the final round of Asian qualifiers with a perfect nine points from three games, two ahead of Japan.

Japan will be hoping the tough-tackling Tulio and fellow six-footer Nakazawa can help solve their recent problems defending set pieces.

Their preparations were dented by a 1-0 defeat by Bahrain in Manama last week, Takeshi Okada's side once again undone by some poor marking from a corner.

The top two from each of the two five-team groups will qualify from Asia for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.