BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Australia coach Holger Osieck has hailed Alberto Zaccheroni’s side, saying the current Japanese team is the best in the nation’s history.
Ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier between the two sides, the former Urawa Reds boss sang the praises of the Asian champions, describing them as the most talented Japanese team he has ever seen.
Osieck’s side lost to Japan in the 2011 Asian Cup final, 1-0 in extra time, and the progress the Blue Samurai have made since then has raised the eyebrows of the former assistant coach of 1990 World Cup winner West Germany.
Australia started its final qualifying campaign for Brazil on Friday with a 0-0 draw in Oman, while Japan has collected maximum points from two games with a goal difference of nine.
“I could follow the development for almost 20 years, and the change that has taken place in Japanese football is significant,” Osieck, whose ties with Japanese soccer dates back to 1995, said on Monday.
“The new generation is a free generation, an open-minded generation. They are not afraid anymore, whereas a number of years ago people were reserved and frightened of foreigners but that has changed drastically.”
“Their different mind-set reflects in the performance on the field. They are a different generation of players playing in the top teams in Europe and I think that is the significant difference.”
“It’s a great potential in this team, I have to admit. I mean, look at the quality.”
As Osieck paid his compliments, Socceroos captain Lucas Neill took it a step further, saying his team will be the underdog in the Asian Cup rematch at Suncorp Stadium.
“I actually think Japan are the favorites for this game,” Neill said. “They’ve had better preparations, two home games and now they come here with confidence. They’ve come here earlier than we’ve come here, to play at our home.
“But by no means do we see that as a bad thing. We like the underdog tag, we know we’re in for a very tough game. It’s going to be a fantastic game tomorrow night, one that we think we can win.”
The former Premier League defender said that because Japan has already gained six points, it should be under no pressure against Australia on Tuesday.