Japan must not think they have done enough by reaching the second round of the FIFA World Cup™ as they did back in 2002 when they play Paraguay on Tuesday, warned veteran goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi.
The 34-year-old is now third choice goalkeeper, having been an ever present in three previous FIFA World Cup finals appearances, but was selected in the squad by coach Takeshi Okada principally to be a 'spiritual' captain for the other players.
Kawaguchi, who has mainly played his club football in Japan though he did have spells with English side Portmsouth and Danish outfit Nordsjaelland, said that the present Japanese side had a great opportunity to secure an historic place in the quarter-finals on Tuesday so long as they believed in themselves.
The veteran goalkeeper, who is the second most capped player in Japanese history with 117, said that he regretted the way in which he and his team-mates lost focus after reaching the second round on home turf in 2002 and were beaten 1-0 by eventual semi-finalists Turkey.
"We must keep on playing as we have been doing," he said. "Of course, we can be proud of what we have done so far but we must stay calm. However, we may suffer a backlash if we start thinking: 'We never thought we could achieve this much'," added Kawaguchi, after the final training session at their training camp of George.
Kawaguchi recalled how back in 2002 their then coach Frenchman Philippe Troussier, effectively told them they had already succeeded beyond their wildest dreams and labelled the knockout rounds as just a "bonus." "It is important to take one match at a time and play to the end," said Kawaguchi.
Okada, who was in charge of the 1998 finals squad that lost all three matches, praised Kawaguchi for his influence on the rest of the squad, especially the younger players. "Kawaguchi is talking to everyone and really holding the team together," said Okada, whose credibility has been restored after he was initially ridiculed for targetting a semi-final spot in South Africa.
Another of the veterans of the 2002 campaign, holding midfielder Junichi Inamoto, who scored twice during those finals, said he saw a lot in the present squad that reminded him of the 1999 World Youth team which reached the final of the Under-20 championships before losing to Spain. "I can feel the momentum of the whole team, including the coaching staff, and they all have the same goal. "We kind of resemble the 1999 World Youth team," he added.
Inamoto, who spent several years in Europe with spells at, among others, Fulham, West Brom, Eintracht Frankfurt, Galatasaray and French side Rennes before returning to Japan, said that they had already achieved something but it was important to build on it. "We should not change the way we play," said the 30-year-old, came on twice as a substitute in the group matches - in the 1-0 win over Cameroon and the 3-1 trouncing of Denmark. "We have climbed a mountain and the team spirit is fantastic."
Inamoto, capped over 80 times, was especially complimentary of the offensive play of his team-mates led by CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda as a lone frontman with former Real Mallorca forward Yoshito Okubo and Grenoble midfielder Daisuke Matsui filling in behind him. "We have grown match after match," he said. "But the attacking players have been able to flourish because our defence has been so watertight."