Japan delighted by 'Zac magic'

Japan's new coach Alberto Zaccheroni has urged his team to believe in themselves after the Blue Samurai shocked South American powerhouses Argentina 1-0 in his first match in charge.

"Zac's magic; What a change! What a surprise!" read a banner headline in red ink on the front page of the popular daily Sports Nippon Saturday, the morning after Japan's first ever win over the two-times world champions.

"Many of our players have quality but they are not aware of it," the former AC Milan boss said. "I hope this victory will lead our players to believe more in their own potential. Our aim is not just to outdo Argentina. There is a lot of room for our players and the team to grow with the 2014 World Cup as a new goal."

The 57-year-old Italian, who has managed a string of Serie A sides but never taken charge of a national team, joined Japan after they reached the last 16 in South Africa for their best ever FIFA World Cup™ on foreign soil.

I hope this victory will lead our players to believe more in their own potential.
Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan coach

In Friday's friendly in Saitama, Japan kept Argentina's attack, led by Barcelona's Lionel Messi, at bay, managing 15 shots on goal to the Argentinians' 13. Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki scored the winner in the 19th minute, volleying in a rebound off Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero after a 30-metre shot by Japan captain and Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe.

Zaccheroni continued: "I watched to see how the team would express on the pitch what I have told them during the training camp. I feel particularly satisfied in this aspect."

The daily Sankei Shimbun called the victory "Zac magic out of nowhere." The daily said Zaccheroni's no-nonsense approach had given hope that Japan would steadily improve.

Japan play traditional rivals South Korea away in another friendly on Tuesday - their last match before they travel to Qatar for the Asian Cup in January, when they aim to regain the title they lost in 2007. Japan lost to South Korea 2-0 at home in May in the run-up to South Africa.

"In some sense, it may be tougher to fight South Korea than play Argentina," Zaccheroni said, without elaborating.

Renowned football writer Sergio Echigo told the Nikkan Sports: "Japan may be pardoned for playing too defensively against higher-ranking Argentina, but not against South Korea."

Argentina are fifth in the FIFA rankings, 25 places above Japan. South Korea are 44th.