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Zaccheroni issues challenge to Blue Samurai

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo News

Newly appointed national team coach Alberto Zaccheroni wants his new charges to turn the page and create a new chapter in Japanese soccer history after their World Cup heroics in South Africa.

The Italian, casually dressed in a black polo shirt, jeans and white trainers, ran the rule over the Blue Samurai for the first time from the sidelines Thursday as they limbered up for Saturday’s highly anticipated rematch with Paraguay in Yokohama.

“I had a meeting with the players and they are all very motivated. The first thing I said to them was how well they had played at the World Cup,” Zaccheroni told reporters.

“I told them also that as Japan national team players they must continue to show pride and responsibility. The World Cup page is closed now and they have to write a new chapter. Together I want us to make a new story.”

Zaccheroni, who was unveiled as successor to Takeshi Okada on Tuesday but cannot take charge of the team until his work permit is approved, watched from the main stand as Japan’s World Cup stars went through their paces in warm breezy conditions at Mitsuzawa Stadium.

Fifteen of Japan’s World Cup squad, including star midfielder Keisuke Honda, trained but influential defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka pulled out of the squad earlier in the day after hurting ribs in his right side during training with club side Nagoya Grampus on Wednesday.

Urawa Reds midfielder Hajime Hosogai is the only player in the squad never to have previously been called up for national team duty.

“There are a lot of players in the squad I have played with before and they were all really good to me,” Hosogai said. “I want to enjoy myself and show what I am capable of. The new coach is going to be the one picking the team and he will be watching the games so hopefully I can make an impression.”

Japan will have revenge on its minds Saturday in what will be its first game since Paraguay knocked it out in the second round of the World Cup. The three-time Asian champions then play Guatemala in another friendly in Osaka on Tuesday.

Japan Football Association director Hiromi Hara, who handled negotiations with Zaccheroni, will act as caretaker manager for both the Paraguay and Guatemala matches.

Zaccheroni will be a spectator for both games and is scheduled to head back to Italy to sort out his work visa after the Guatemala match.

“Now we have a new coach and we can focus on these two games, and we have to show after the World Cup how well we can play,” goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima said.