Japan's coach Takeshi Okada has warned against complacency after his side's 3-0 rout of Qatar, a result which eased pressure on him and boosted morale ahead of a showdown with group leaders Australia.
"I believe we're improving little by little. But this doesn't guarantee us anything," he told Japanese media after the FIFA World Cup™ qualifier in Doha late Wednesday. "We still have a long way to go. As many things can happen in (World Cup) qualifying, I believe we must enhance our accuracy more and more."
'Japan gratified', the Asahi Shimbun daily said Thursday in a headline which summed up the feelings of the former Asian champions who had struggled past Bahrain 3-2 away and drew 1-1 with Uzbekistan at home in earlier Group A qualifiers.
Okada had been widely criticised for a lack of clear-cut offensive tactics and another uninspiring result could have increased pressure to sack him. He has told his charges, who were short on finishing skills, to be quick in switching between offensive and defensive play and keep running at all times.
"It is somewhat encouraging that the road for the team to go is beginning to be clearly seen," the mass-circulation Yomiuri commented.
Tatsuya Tanaka opened the scoring in the 19th minute with another forward Keiji Tamada slamming in a screamer from outside the area in the 47th. Brazilian-born centre back Marcus Tulio Tanaka headed home on a measured pass from Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura in the 68th.
"The number of players with agility is increasing among us," Nakamura said, in a tribute to former Japan coach Ivica Osim who emphasised flexibility and constant running during his tenure but was forced to quit the job last December after suffering a serious stroke.
"I think what Mr. Osim has done is leading us into the right direction," said the 30-year-old midfielder. "As a team, we are becoming able to read the flow of the game."
Okada replaced Osim, who guided the former Yugoslavia to the 1990 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals, for his second stint as national coach. Okada led Japan in their winless FIFA World Cup finals debut at France 1998. Japan will next face Australia at home on 11 February.
Australia dominate Group A with a perfect nine points from three matches, two points clear of Japan. Qatar trail with four points from four games, with Bahrain and Uzbekistan at the bottom with one point each.
"We want to fight Australia as if we face them in the World Cup finals," Nakamura said. "We can see how much we can do with our brand of football next time."
Australia beat Japan 3-1 in the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals. However, the Blue Samurai avenged the loss when they beat the Socceroos on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup quarter-finals in Hanoi.
"It was so hot at the Asian Cup that the result there might not be a good reference," Nakamura said. "We may find a new task next time."