World Cup: Japan faces big challenges

Japan coach Zico figures his team has nothing to fear at the World Cup.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:35 IST
  • Total Shares


Japan coach Zico figures his team has nothing to fear at the World Cup. Drawn in a tough Group F that includes five-time champion Brazil, Australia and Croatia, the Asian champions will need all the courage they can muster to advance to the second round, however. Zico, who took over from Philippe Troussier after the 2002 World Cup, said Japan's players have become stronger after a series of setbacks. At the 2004 Asian Cup in China, local fans booed during Japan's national anthem and hung banners criticizing Tokyo's aggression during World War II. Japanese fans and players were harassed throughout the tournament and riot police were called in to ensure their safety. Prior to a key World Cup qualifier against Oman, a typhoon swept through Japan and the team had to hold a training session in the banquet room of a hotel. ''Through tough situations like those our players have become stronger,'' Zico said. ''We won 11 of 12 games to qualify for the World Cup and we'll be heading to Germany with confidence.'' Zico will have some tough questions of his own to resolve before Japan opens its World Cup campaign on June 12 against Australia. While he originally intended to go with a midfield consisting of Hidetoshi Nakata (Bolton), Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic), Junichi Inamoto (West Bromwich Albion) and former Feyenoord player Shinji Ono, Zico said the emergence of domestic players Mitsuo Ogasawara and Takashi Fukunishi could result in a change of plans. Then there's the question of who will play forward. Zico speaks highly of Atsushi Yanagisawa, who played for Japan four years ago, but the veteran striker has been sidelined with a foot injury since March and will have had little time to prepare. J-League players Tatsuhiko Kubo, Masashi Oguro and Keiji Tamada have been used up front in recent friendlies with limited success. Defense is solid with captain Tsuneyuki Miyamaoto and veteran Koji Nakata. Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi is expected to be Japan's starting goalkeeper. To have a realistic chance of advancing, Zico knows the match against Australia will be key. ''The match against Australia is very important,'' Zico said. ''They have many high-level players who play in Europe and if you give them space, they'll define the match so we have to mark them very closely.'' Australia also has Guus Hiddink, who guided South Korea to the semifinals in 2002 and is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the game today. ''We're in a very tough group,'' Zico said. ''It's almost guaranteed that Brazil will go through so the other teams each have a 33 percent chance to advance. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will be the one that advances.'' Japan will be making its third appearance in the World Cup. The team's best performance was in 2002 when it co-hosted the tournament with South Korea and advanced to the second round. (AP)