Japan's underdog status will not stop them putting up a fight at the 2014 World Cup™ in Brazil, their coach Alberto Zaccheroni has said. While he admitted that winning the competition might be beyond the Samurai Blue, he saw it as a good proving ground for Asia's best team.
"The World Cup will include so many strong teams that have already showed how good they are. So this is our turn to show everybody how strong we are," said Zaccheroni. "As a coach, I always aim to win," he said. "Of course, at the same time, I have enough experience to understand that I have to deal with other things," said 60-year-old Zaccheroni.
He coached AC Milan and other clubs in Italy's Serie A, before taking over the Samurai Blue after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The heat and humidity, as well as the vast distances they may have to travel between games, will all take their toll on players, Zaccheroni told reporters.
So will the fact that the other teams in Group C are comfortably above 48th-placed Japan in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Colombia are fourth, Greece 12th and Côte d'Ivoire 17th. But under Zaccheroni, Japan have pulled off a few surprises, beating a Lionel Messi-led Argentina 1-0 at home in 2010, former world champions France 1-0 away in 2012 and World Cup seeds Belgium 3-2 away last month.
They also won a record fourth Asian Cup title in January 2011 and went down fighting 4-3 to Italy at June's FIFA Confederations Cup where they did slip to defeat in all three group matches.
"In the past three and a half years, we've grown so much (against strong teams). Sometimes we did very, very good jobs," the coach said. "In the past year, the team was a little shy when they had to confront very strong teams. But this is not so true (recently) and they have really shown self-confidence."
Zaccheroni's Japan have been spearheaded by playmaker Keisuke Honda, now on the move to AC Milan from CSKA Moscow; Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa; and Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo. Honda's move to Italy will be a boost to Japan, said Zaccheroni, who managed AC Milan between 1998-2001 and won the league title in 1999.
"This is really a good moment to go to Milan because there are six months to the World Cup," he said.
Japan's World Cup opponents could prove a formidable force, he said, particularly Colombia, who are "very balanced and very strong" and can reach the final. And Côte d'Ivoire might be the best team in Africa, he said. Zaccheroni said he had to instil a killer instinct in the Samurai Blue.
"I'll ask my squad not to worry too much about defence. Of course, a team has to do that but most of all I'll ask them to just attack."