The Japan men’s national football team – also known as the Samurai Blue – have only all of three weeks to finalize their preparations for the FIFA World Cup that kicks off on June 12 in Brazil. Japan’s Italian manager Alberto Zaccheroni will now have to stick by the 23 men he called up and try to work out the nuances and dynamics of the team, especially as the team members come in with varying levels of form and for some, recovery from recent injury.
One of the major talking points was the obvious lack of a “big man up front” – a tall and physical striker who can work his way amid the imposing centerbacks they are sure encounter in Brazil – in Zaccheroni’s team selection. The Japan manager has selected the in-form Kawasaki Frontale striker Yoshito Okubo to fill the role as his main striker, preferred over the obviously bigger frames of Mike Havenaar of Vitesse or the in-form Yohei Toyoda from Sagan Tosu. When asked to comment on this selection of Okubo, Zaccheroni said that he had given other players a chance to show their worth for the spot, but, in the end, it was Okubo who proved he was the man for the job. “Up until today I have chosen other players over him giving them a chance to mature, Okubo was able to convince me he was the player I needed,” he said.
There are also injury concerns for Zaccheroni to deal with – as Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke), and Makoto Hasebe (Nürnberg), have all only just returned from injury. Then there is the question of club form. In this argument, AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda and Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa stand in stark light, as they have not been able to hold down regular places in their teams this season. Zaccheroni says that the injuries and irregular matches may actually be a positive for Japan, saying that the players may be more rested than others and raring to go. There may be some truth in that, but how much of it is just positive thinking?
For their final preparations, Japan now has three games to work on the preferred lineup and formation before going to Brazil. There is a home-based friendly against Cyprus in Saitama on May 27. The team then flies to Florida for their pre-tournament training camp where the Samurai Blue will play Costa Rica and Zambia in Tampa before finally flying to the World Cup in Brazil.
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