Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni promised the Asian champions will fear nobody at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ as he named a full-strength 23-man squad, spearheaded by Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda. The 61-year-old Italian backed his Blue Samurai to give Côte d'Ivoire a severe test in their opening game in Brazil on 14 June, insisting that reputations will count for nothing.
"We will respect our opponents but certainly won't be frightened," Zaccheroni told reporters a little over a month before Japan square off against the West Africans. "If you go into a game with fear, you're in trouble. We need to go in prepared and bring our own qualities. We have a lot of attacking players."
Asian Cup-holders Japan also face Colombia and Greece in Group C, which on paper gives them a decent chance of progressing to the knockout stage, as they did in 2010. "I've had the squad in my head a while but I wanted to have a look at as many players as possible," said Zaccheroni, who expressed confidence that captain Makoto Hasebe and right-back Atsuto Uchida would recover from injury in time for the tournament.
"It was a struggle to get the list down to 23. I wanted to call up (FIFA president) Sepp Blatter and ask him to let me pick more. But this group of players knows how I want them to play tactically and understands the team ethic."
We will respect our opponents but certainly won't be frightened. If you go into a game with fear, you're in trouble.
Zaccheroni sprung a surprise in recalling striker Yoshito Okubo from the international wilderness, his name causing an audible gasp from the press throng. "He's got experience, knows the game and can bring us a little something different," said the Italian. "It's a great group, and we're determined to show the strides Asian football has made. Yes, we will be judged on results but if we concentrate on playing our game, I believe the results will come."
Japan will again rely heavily on attacking pair Kagawa and Honda in Brazil. "Shinji is an impact player for Japan," said Zaccheroni, adamant Kagawa's frustrating season on the fringes at Manchester United would have no bearing. "He always does the job asked. Honda, we know, has the character and power to grab the team by the scruff of the neck. We hope he can do the same again."
Japan stormed through Asian qualifying to secure a fifth successive World Cup appearance, finishing four points clear of Australia at the top of their final-round group after winning five and losing just one of their eight games. Three defeats at last year's Confederations Cup raised concerns, but with a driving force of AC Milan's Honda, Kagawa and Inter Milan's Yuto Nagatomo, and a clinical finisher in Shinji Okazaki, Japan will be disappointed not to reach the last 16.
Unlike previous World Cups, there were no bold targets set by Zaccheroni. "We need to make sure our conditioning is perfect," he said. "I don't wish to make concrete predictions, and if we lose we'll take it on the chin. But if we play to our potential we have a chance. We're positive. Let's see how far it takes us."
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege/BEL), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders: Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan/ITA), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke/GER), Maya Yoshida (Southampton/ENG), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96/GER), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart/GER)
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Makoto Hasebe (Nuremberg/GER), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan/ITA), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United/ENG)
Forwards: Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz/GER), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nurnberg/GER), Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Manabu Saito (Yokohama F-Marinos), Yuya Osako (1860 Munich/GER)
* Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 16 May at 12:00 CET.