Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has told his charges to be ready for more tough FIFA World Cup™ qualifying battles after a nailbiting 1-0 win over Korea DPR.
Although the Blue Samurai outgunned the doggedly defensive North Koreans by 20 shots to five, they needed a 94th-minute winner to take three points in their Group C opener.
"I expected the fight to become so fierce and tough," the Italian coach said after the rain-hampered game in Saitama last night. "It was within my expectations that every team would try to put in their best performance against Japan, as we are the Asian champions.
We are a highly motivated group and we must be prepared for any opponents - whether they defend deep or come out in open play.
"Japan must take it upon themselves to play such a role and I personally don't feel reluctant to play that role," said the former AC Milan coach, who is unbeaten since taking the job after the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The Japanese team, aiming for a fifth straight appearance at the FIFA World Cup since their debut at France 1998, left for Tashkent today to face Uzbekistan on Tuesday. Their qualifying group for Brazil 2014 also includes Tajikistan, who lost 1-0 to the Uzbeks at home.
"I expect our opponents in the upcoming matches to stick together and defend deep as North Korea did," said Zaccheroni, who had never coached a national team before coming to Japan. "But we are a highly motivated group and we must be prepared for any opponents - whether they defend deep or come out in open play."
The Blue Samurai, who reached the Round of 16 in South Africa, have recorded seven wins and five draws under Zaccheroni, including an historic 1-0 friendly victory over Argentina and a record fourth AFC Asian Cup title in January.
They have developed into an attack-minded unit led by CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda and Borussia Dortmund goal-machine Shinji Kagawa.
"My team can create more chances than our opponents within 90 minutes, as we did against North Korea when we had more personalities and more options up front," Zaccheroni said.
The current squad missed Honda, who underwent surgery in Barcelona on Thursday on his injured right knee, and Inter Milan full-back Yuto Nagatomo, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury since late July. Honda has been the driving force behind Japan's successes at the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup.
"It is true that we don't have players matching the two of them," the coach said. "But I am 100 percent satisfied with the players who have filled in for Honda and Nagatomo."
Urawa Reds midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi and Dutch-born striker Mike Havenaar of Ventforet Kofu have replaced Honda and injury-hit Kengo Nakamura in the squad. Target man Havenaar came on in the 70th minute to make his international debut and hit the bar four minutes later.