Samurai Blue coach Alberto Zaccheroni may have had a tough few months, coming under scrutiny because of Japan’s consecutive losses in friendly football matches, but he believes it is these difficult matches that has made the team more confident for the World Cup finals next year. Japan was drawn in Group C with Ivory Coast, Greece and Colombia and because of the countries in the group, they are expected to progress to the knockout stages.
Zaccheroni said that he specifically asked to play stronger teams when he took over coaching duties three and a half years ago. He wanted to take the team out of their comfort zone, as they constantly beat teams in Asia, but had trouble playing against the more dominant teams from Europe and South America. He believes that this has removed the timidity from their play and now the team is more confident playing against powerhouses like Brazil, the Netherlands and his native Italy. He said he tried to get the players to play to their unique strengths to have an edge over these physically stronger teams. “When we play teams from South America or Europe we understand those players play a different way, with an edge, so instead of asking my players to be meaner, I ask them to be smarter,” he said.
The challenges he has brought to Japan’s national men’s football team has gotten mixed results. They failed to win any of their group stage games in the Confederations Cup and lost to Serbia and Belarus in friendly games last October. But wining 3-2 against a powerhouse Belgium and drawing 2-2 with the Netherlands (the 2010 World Cup runner-up) has slightly eased the pressure off both Zaccheroni and the team as they make their final preparations for next year’s World Cup. They will be looking to improve on their surprise run during the 2010 edition, where they reached the knockout stages before losing to Paraguay on penalties in a heartbreaking fashion. Zaccheroni says that even though they will be traveling a long way in between matches and Brazil often has 85% humidity, he knows the Samurai Blue will show the others how much they’ve improved the past four years.
[ via The Republic ]