Japan coach Takeshi Okada has said that his side will find extra motivation for their FIFA World Cup™ last 16 match with Paraguay now that they carry Asia's hopes at the tournament.
The 53-year-old added that he was sorry to see rivals Korea Republic go out - they lost 2-1 to Uruguay on Saturday - but said this would only serve to bolster his side's resolve to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. "Of course, I think we have to play with extra pride as we are now the only Asian representatives. My desire to beat Paraguay is even more resolute," said Okada, who is in his second finals as coach having overseen their 1998 campaign where they lost all three matches.
Japan has also received encouragement from South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, who told Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of a G8 summit in Canada that he hoped Japan reached the quarter-finals "on behalf of Asia". Korea Republic, reached the semi-finals in 2002 for Asia's best-ever FIFA World Cup result, upstaging their co-hosts Japan, who bowed out in the Round of 16.
Of course, I think we have to play with extra pride as we are now the only Asian representatives. My desire to beat Paraguay is even more resolute.
Korea Republic's achievement prompted Okada to set his target of a semi-final spot in South Africa, a goal widely ridiculed as unrealistic for Japan, three-time Asian champions (1992, 2000 and 2004). However, the fact that they are the sole remaining Asian representative has enthused not only Okada but also his players, who can entertain realistic hopes of reaching the last eight after an impressive group phase where they beat Cameroon (1-0) and Denmark (3-1) and only lost 1-0 to the Netherlands.
"We want to play honourably as proud representatives of Asia and of Japan," said 23-year-old left-back Yuto Nagatomo, who is been reportedly being chased by European clubs including English Premier League side Birmingham City. "We will play courageously as we have nothing to lose."
Japan captain and VfL Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe concurred. "South Korea also worked very hard but now we are the only Asian side left in the tournament and we really want to win for Asia," said the 26-year-old.
Okada praised Korea Republic for the manner in which they had played against the solid Uruguayans and had at one point looked as if they might qualify for the last eight after levelling at 1-1 in the second-half. "They played a great game. In terms of the balance of the overall match, I thought South Korea would prevail," he said. "It was really unfortunate that they (Koreans) could not win. But I think South Korea were far from embarrassed," he added.