Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has tempered expectations on his Japan side for the AFC Asian Cup after he previously spoke of his yearning to win the tournament and qualify for the FIFA Confederations Cup.
"Our target is to fight well at this tournament with our eyes set on a big tournament down the road," the former AC Milan boss told an official press conference on the eve of Japan's Group B opener against Jordan yesterday. But the 57-year-old Italian refused to mention a specific goal in Qatar for Japan who failed to lift a third straight title at the last Asian Cup in 2007.
"We don't know what specific placing means a good result as it depends on who our opponents are," said Zaccheroni, who took over from homegrown Takeshi Okada after Japan reached the last-16 at the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa in June.
Japan are also grouped with fellow three-time champions Saudi Arabia, who beat them in the 2007 semi-finals, and unfancied Syria. Fellow FIFA World Cup finalists Australia, North Korea and South Korea are locked in other groups.
However, this more tentative approach flys in the face somewhat of a more boisterous approach prior to the start of the tournament. Zaccheroni was heard telling his charges at a training camp at home last week: "The Asian Cup is a tournament for us to win and clinch a berth in the Confederations Cup."
At that time, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa told reporters, "If the manager spells out a goal that way, it makes life easier for the players." Kagawa, who has scored eight Bundesliga goals after moving to Germany in mid-2010 when he missed the fifa World Cup, is one of ten Europe-based players on the squad, including two new signings.
The 23 Samurai also feature ten players from Japan's FIFA World Cup squad, including CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda, Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe and Cesena defender Yuto Nagatomo.
They were hit with a blow today though as new Cologne signing Tomoaki Makino was ruled out after spraining both ankles in training. Makino, a versatile defender who would have made up for the absence of FIFA World Cup centre backs Markus Tulio Tanaka and Yuji Nakazawa who are both out injured, was replaced by J-League Urawa Reds centre back Mitsuru Nagata.
The Asian Football Confederation also announced on Sunday another change in Japan's depleted rearguard as 19-year-old uncapped full back Gotoku Sakai of Albirex Niigata left the squad with a lower back injury. His place was filled in by Ryota Moriwaki of Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
But Zaccheroni, who has never coached a national team or foreign club before Japan, insisted that his squad were young and he wanted to use the continental showcase as a testing ground for them to "grow further."
"If our objective was to win the Asian Cup, I would have brought the entire World Cup squad here," he told a handful of Japanese reporters, according to Kyodo News. "But if I had done that, we will never be able to move forward."