Alberto Zaccheroni has vowed to help develop Japan into a team that can compete for 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ glory.
"This is nothing but a starting point for us," the former AC Milan coach said at a party celebrating the nation's AFC Asian Cup conquest. "I want to help Japanese football grow like every industry in Japan keeps on growing. And I want to help Japan qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and fight for the top spot there."
Having drawn their opener against Jordan at Qatar 2011, Japan narrowly won all of their matches to lift a record fourth straight title, in a resilient defence of their trophy that won them many fans. The Samurai Blue beat the hosts 3-2 in the last eight and saw off Korea Republic on penalties in the semi-finals, before pipping Australia 1-0 in extra-time to take the trophy. Japan also won men's and women's football titles at the Asian Games in November.
"Now Japanese football is attracting the interest of many countries," said Zaccheroni. "The Asian Cup used to draw little attention in Italy, but this time quite a few Italians kept an eye on it."
The 57-year-old believes the increased exposure helped left-back Yuto Nagatomo clinch a loan move from Cesena to Inter Milan. "I expect the number of Japanese playing in Europe to increase next season," he added.
The Asian Cup was Zaccheroni's first major trophy since guiding AC Milan to the Serie A title in 1999. He coached 13 Italian teams over three decades, including Lazio, Inter, Torino and Juventus.
Japan upset a full-strength Argentina, starring Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, in a home friendly last October, before the memorable Asian Cup success. Zaccheroni's next major competition will be the Copa America in July, when the Samurai Blue will compete as guests.
Quoting from the 2003 film 'The Last Samurai' - in which Tom Cruise plays an American soldier hired to train troops in Japan after its feudal isolation - Zaccheroni recalled a line which said the Japanese are a people who set a goal and keep repeating the same thing until they reach it.
"This means that the Japanese are always willing to grow," he said. "My goal is to help them grow."