Football: Japan still in race for France

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Japan reached Asia's World Cup play-offs on Saturday by thrashing Kazakhstan 5-1 in the final game of their Asian second round Group B campaign.

A goal apiece from the recalled strikers Masahi Nakayama and Takuya Takagi helped Japan through to a game against the Group A runners-up in Malaysia on 16 November. Their opponents will be Qatar, Iran or Saudi Arabia. Yutaka Akita, Hidetoshi Nakata and Masami Ihara scored their other goals

Japan are grateful to have another chance to reach the World Cup in France, after a stop-start qualifying campaign that saw their coach, Shu Kamo, sacked following a lacklustre performance against Kazakhstan in Almaty last October. The new coach, Takeshi Okada, has moulded a team which looks more confident at the back and is dangerous going forward.

Iran, whose 2-0 Group A defeat to Qatar on Friday hindered their chances of automatic qualification, have sacked their coach, Mohammad Myeli Kohan, and replaced him with a Brazilian, Valdeir Viera.

Belgium's coach, Georges Leekens, has named a tried and trusted squad for Saturday's second leg of the World Cup European play-off against the Republic of Ireland in Brussels. The Fiorentina striker Luis Oliveira returns after being suspended for the first leg, which ended 1-1. Gilles de Bilde, the Anderlecht forward, is dropped. Two defenders, Anderlecht's Glenn de Boeck and Monaco's Philippe Leonard, were also recalled by Leekens.