Sapo seeks success on 'home soil'
© Foto-net

Being drawn in the same group as Brazil and Russia at the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2008 is no easy task, as Japan and Cuba found out this week to their cost. Cuba’s 10-5 loss to Russia, coupled with the 12-1 drubbing Japan received at the hands of the Brazilian hosts, made both teams aware of the task facing them at this year’s tournament.

These early results might not have made pretty reading but both teams will have a chance to make amends - and maintain competitive interest in the tournament, when they face each other in Monday’s Group A encounter in Brasilia.

Despite Japan’s 7-2 victory over the Solomon Islands on Saturday, coach Sergio Sapo is looking for an improved performance from his charges ahead of Monday’s clash. “I hope, and believe, that the team will play better against Cuba. In particular, we need to be more alert during the one-on-one situations and show some more patience when going forward. We cannot afford to lose this game. Doing so would mean we have no chance of qualifying for the next round. Even a draw would leave us with a chance of progressing going into the last game against Russia,” Sapo told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.

Though Japan always knew they had been handed a tough draw,
their Brazilian-born coach had set one clear aim for his team ahead of the tournament in his homeland, as he explained to FIFA.com: “Our main aim is to reach the second round. At our first futsal world cup we played well but didn’t progress beyond the first round, so we’ve been working extremely hard for this tournament.”

One player who could end up playing a crucial role for Japan in the game against Cuba is Kenichiro Kogure. Japan’s star striker is currently the only squad member to ply his trade overseas - with Spanish club Gestesa Guadalajara – and a veteran of the last FIFA Futsal World Cup in Chinese Taipei four years ago. Experience that could prove vital as Japan chase a place in the second round.

Kogure’s presence in a top European league is, according to Sapo, evidence that futsal in Asia is on the right track. “ Futsal in Asia has become very popular when you consider that the sport has only been around here for eight years or so. Nobody should be under any illusions, though, how much work is required to play futsal at this level. The sport is flourishing throughout Asia thanks in no small part to the presence of experienced foreign coaches. That said, even in Japan there’s still a lot of work to be done in the future to improve the structure and organization of the game,” Sapo told FIFA.com.

Right now, though, Sepo will only have the game against Cuba on his mind and will no doubt have meticulously prepared his team for this particular challenge. Anything less than a win would be a bitter disappointment for the Brazilian who had been planning on an extensive stay in his homeland.

Have Your Say

Who will emerge victorious in the duel between the two outsiders in Group A?  Will coach Sergio Sapo be able to savour a Japan victory over Cuba?