Few players have made a bigger impression on the development of Japanese football than Zico. The Brazilian idol’s contribution and commitment in his 12 years as a player and technical director of four-time J. League champions Kashima Antlers won the respect and affection of the country’s fans, players and football officials. Ten months after succeeding Frenchman Philippe Troussier at the helm of the Japanese national team, the 50-year-old spoke to FIFA.com about Japan’s prospects at this month’s FIFA Confederations Cup, life as a coach and, of course, Brazil.
Zico, known as the "White Pele" for his outstanding performances for Flamengo, Udinese and Brazil, played in three FIFA World Cup™ competitions (1978, ’82, ’86) and worked as a technical coordinator for Brazil’s 1998 World Cup team. Currently, he is preparing his team for the FIFA Confederations Cup France 2003, with qualification for Germany 2006 as his long-term target. It will be the first major tournament for Zico’s side.
Under his guidance, Japan have played five friendly internationals with a 1-2-2 win-draw-loss record, the latest a 1-0 home defeat to rivals Korea Republic on 31 May. However, the team’s schedule has been badly disrupted by the Iraq war and SARS. A trip to the United States in March was abandoned and the four-nation East Asian Championship scheduled for late May was postponed.
While these changes may have affected his side’s preparations for the FIFA Confederations Cup, Zico, as always, tries to look at the positive side of things and carries on regardless as he strives to create a solid foundation for his team.
Japan are scheduled to play in the three-team Kirin Cup against Argentina, in Osaka on 8 June, and Paraguay, in Saitama on 11 June, before heading to France, where Zico will be hoping to make a good showing in his first real competition in charge.