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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
The man behind the mask
Tsuneyasu Miyamoto has helped to shore up the Japanese defence
Miyamoto: The mask has not impaired his play

Japan v Turkey
Second round
Miyagi | Tue 18 June | 0730 BST
BBC Radio Five Live

Hidetoshi Nakata may be the creative force behind Japan's World Cup dreams, but his genius would count for nothing without the inspired defending of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto.

Known to many for the the striking black mask he wears on the field, Miyamoto has marshalled the hosts' rear guard admirably.

Since leaking two goals to Belgium in their opening match, Japan have kept clean sheets in consecutive games against Russia and Tunisia.

They need another solid display in Tuesday's second-round match against Turkey and will count on Miyamoto to keep things tight.

Open Quote
Miyamoto's rating must have soared
Close Quote
Gamba Osaka coach Akira Nishino

The 25-year-old Gamba Osaka defender wears a medical face-guard to strap his nose which was broken in a training match a few days before the World Cup.

But instead of being deterred, his displays have drawn the attention of European scouts again, two years after an offer from West Ham fell through.

"As long as I am active as a player, I will be willing to play on such a stage," Miyamoto has said of a possible move abroad.

Gamba Osaka coach Akira Nishino accepts that his defender's stock will have risen: "His rating must have soared. If there is a concrete offer, I will personally support him."

Miyamoto, who painted his mask black to make it look more frightening, came on as substitute for the injury-prone centre back Ryuzo Morioka during the Belgium match.

"I am getting used to how it feels while playing," he said of what has become a hot fashion accessory to rival the mohican hair-style of England captain David Beckham.

Sportsgear maker Adidas, which sponsors Miyamoto, has produced hundreds of replica masks in response to growing demand.

They distributed them to supporters in Tokyo and Osaka on the day of the last group match against Tunisia.

And Japanese fans everywhere will be hoping that the black mask, and the man behind it, become symbols of ultimate success for the co-hosts at World Cup 2002.


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GROUP H
  P GD PTS
JAPAN 3 +3 7
BELGIUM 3 +1 5
RUSSIA 3 0 3
TUNISIA 3 -4 1

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