SAITAMA – National team manager Alberto Zaccheroni believes Japan can live with any team in the world after scoring nine goals without reply in its opening two games of the final round of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup.
The Asian champions followed up last weekend’s 3-0 win over Oman with a 6-0 demolition of Jordan on Friday, taking a 4-0 lead before halftime at Saitama Stadium and playing some of the most fluent, incisive soccer the national team has ever seen.
Japan now heads to Brisbane to take on Australia on Tuesday in what looks on paper to be the toughest assignment in a five-team group that also includes Iraq, but Zaccheroni has more than enough reason to believe his team is equal to the task.
“I do have information about Australia, but I haven’t had the time to digest this game yet and my mind is still on what I have just seen,” the Italian said after Friday’s match. “But if we keep on playing like we have over the past two games, with such a high rhythm and precision, we have shown that we can play anyone, not just Australia.
“Of course just because the first two games have gone well, that doesn’t mean the third one will too. But we have played the kind of football we have been aiming for and we have been getting results, so I’m hopeful for success against Australia as well. I think we are bringing the best out of the players and the shape of the team is there.”
Keisuke Honda scored a hat trick in Friday’s rout — his first in national team colors — with Ryoichi Maeda, Yuzo Kurihara and soon-to-be Manchester United forward Shinji Kagawa also getting on the scoresheet with one goal each. Honda has made a big impact after missing the entire third qualifying round through injury, but already his manager is cracking the whip.
“Honda missed about 10 months, so I want him to make up for missing all those games,” said Zaccheroni. “I don’t want him to be satisfied with scoring three goals tonight. I want him to want to score more.”
Australia drew 0-0 with Oman in Friday’s other game, giving Japan a five-point advantage already over each of its Group B rivals with only two rounds of the competition played.
“We did very well to go two goals ahead so early,” said Zaccheroni.
“A lot of teams would have slowed down in that situation, but we kept going looking for more goals. That was very satisfying.”