Japan coach Takeshi Okada shrugged off taunts from his Australia rival Pim Verbeek ahead of their crunch FIFA World Cup™ qualifier this week. Okada refused to take the bait after Verbeek said Japan showed a lack of confidence by barring media from their training sessions despite five weeks of preparations.
"I don't care about it at all. I know Pim's character," Okada told a press conference. "He may be trying to put pressure on me. But I believe he knows that I don't buy it... We have done our best in terms of conditioning, mental preparation and strategy."
Verbeek had earlier claimed Japan were under pressure heading into Wednesday's match as the home team. Regional pride and the leadership of Asian Group 1 will be at stake when Australia and Japan, ranked 29th and 34th, clash at Yokohama's International Stadium.
Australia, who joined Asia after the last FIFA World Cup, lead the table with a perfect nine points from three straight wins, followed by Japan on seven points and Qatar on four. Bahrain and Uzbekistan each have one point.
Verbeek said Japan had a "long preparation" while his players, all but one of them plying their trade in Europe, were to start arriving in Japan only on Sunday. "But our advantage is of course that my players are very experienced in international football. They know how to handle it," said the Dutchman.
He recalled that the bigger and physically stronger Socceroos, coached by fellow Dutchman Guus Hiddink, scored three times in the last nine minutes to stun Japan 3-1 at Germany 2006. "It shows enough about the mental strength and physical possibility my players have. That's one of our biggest strong points," Verbeek said.
Japan avenged that FIFA World Cup defeat in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup quarter-finals when they won on penalties to knock out the pre-tournament favourites. Okada and Verbeek, both aged 52 and both in charge of their teams for 14 months, know each other from the Dutchman's J-League coaching stints since the late 1990s.
Verbeek denied Okada's comments that the two had been exchanging emails, but quipped he may ask for the Japan coach's email address after the match. "That is quite interesting," Okada said. "But I don't want to waste my energy on that."
Japan, missing key Europe-based players, overwhelmed a second-string Finland 5-1 in a friendly at home last week. Okada has called up Celtic playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura and four other players from European clubs to face Australia. Verbeek's squad includes Nakamura's team-mate and striker Scott McDonald and target man Josh Kennedy of Karlsruhe.