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Japan coach Okada targets semis

Japan coach Takeshi Okada has insisted his bold target of making the semi-finals in next year's World Cup remains intact, but that it has been placed on hold in a bid to win a first East Asian title.

Japan, who have never made it past the second round of the World Cup in three attempts, have finished runners-up in the previous three East Asian championships and Okada is determined to put the record straight in next month's tournament on home soil.

"Japan have never won this title so we want to make sure we win it at home this time," Okada said. "At the same time it's an important opportunity to improve ahead of the World Cup."

Okada, who is leading his side to their fourth World Cup this summer, was criticised for lacking ambition when he set a goal of one win, a draw and a defeat after Japan were grouped with Argentina, Croatia and Jamaica at France '98 and has avoided setting a target for the first round in South Africa.

"People will start getting on my case again if I do that but I have got a feeling there are going to be some surprises at this World Cup," he said.

However, despite being grouped with Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark in Group E, Okada's men are targeting an ambitious semi-final place.

"All of our opponents are a bit stronger than us but are in a range we can deal with." said Okada. "We are aiming for a place in the semi-finals and don't intend to change that."

"It's never easy whoever you play. This might sound strange but I don't think it's a bad group to be in. We are not up against teams that we have absolutely no chance of beating."

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