New coach Alberto Zaccheroni has got Japan's post-2010 FIFA World Cup™ life off to a promising start and says he is going to give the team room to grow in the run-up to Brazil 2014.
"There are things I have yet to pass on to the players," the former AC Milan boss told reporters after his team battled to a spirited scoreless draw with Korea Republic in an away friendly yesterday. "Flexible tactics and offensive postures are what they need to learn," the Italian added, ending his first two matches in charge on a positive note following a shock 1-0 home win over Argentina four nights ago.
"I have made up my mind to let them grow slowly. Our final goal is the 2014 World Cup," said Zaccheroni, who replaced Takeshi Okada after Japan reached the last 16 in South Africa for their best FIFA World Cup finish on foreign soil. Korea Republic also reached the last 16 in South Africa, but failed to match their semi-final finish on home soil in 2002.
"I want to tell the players they have a lot more potential than they think," said Zaccheroni, whose next task is to help three-time champions Japan regain the Asian Cup in Qatar in January.
Korea Republic, suffering in the absence of Manchester United star Park Ji-Sung with a knee injury, struggled against the air-tight defence of the Blue Samurai, who were content to attack on the break.
CSKA midfielder Keisuke Honda, who scored twice in South Africa, trapped a long pass in the 89th minute but saw his left-foot shot punched away by South Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong.
"The two sides gave all they had," said the 57-year-old Zaccheroni, who has managed a string of Serie A sides but not a national team before. "Japan played well when they attacked after swinging the ball from one side to another."
"I regret we couldn't score a goal. It's no use saying 'we were so close'," said the 24-year-old Honda. "So I want to prepare myself to put it away next time. We have yet to hit convincing form but we can grow with many young players including myself."
"The future of Japanese football is bright," added the national captain, Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe. "Our overseas-based players have improved, inspiring the domestic pack. Veterans are determined not to be outdone."