International Friendly Preview: Japan v Bulgaria
By Football News
Japan will step up preparations for their World Cup qualifiers and Confederations Cup campaign by taking on Bulgaria on Thursday.
The fixture will be Alberto Zaccheroni's last chance to take a look at his squad ahead of crucial qualification meetings with Australia and Iraq and the opening Confederations Cup fixture against Brazil on June 15.
Japan head into the game at the Tokyo Stadium in good form having won four of their last six fixtures, though they suffered a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Jordan in their last outing.
Despite that result, they remain in a commanding position in their World Cup qualification group, and require just one point against Australia to book a place at Brazil 2014.
CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda and Inter's Yuto Nagatomo have both been handed returns to international duty by Zaccheroni, while Atsuto Uchida (Schalke) and Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United) are two of the more high-profile names in the squad.
"Bulgaria look fit these days and are currently second behind Italy in their World Cup qualifiers. We'll focus on the upcoming two matches to try and get the best results," Zaccheroni said ahead of the game.
"I hope our players can show their skills, determination and good balance. We show the best parts of our game when we play with intensity. I want our players to work on that."
Bulgaria will prove stiff opposition for Japan, having lost just once in their last eight games - a 1-0 friendly reverse at the hands of Ukraine.
And they are currently locked in a tight battle for World Cup qualification, sitting in second place in Group B just three points behind Italy and two above Czech Republic.
Lyuboslav Penev's men also remain undefeated in their group - having won two and drawn four - though they have played one game more than their Group B rivals.
Goalkeeper Mihail Ivanov (Levski Sofia) could win his first international cap, while regulars Stanislav Manolev (PSV Eindhoven), captain Ivelin Popov (Kuban Krasnodar) and Valeri Bojinov (Vicenza) all feature.
There was a surprise omission for Aleksandar Tonev (Lech Poznan), who is Bulgaria's leading goalscorer in their World Cup qualifying campaign, with Spas Delev (CSKA Sofia) called up instead.