BRASILIA – Japan will be the first one to say how good Brazil is, especially after being thrashed by the five-time world champions 4-0 in October.
But that doesn’t mean it thinks Brazil are invincible.
“We saw the France game,” Japan captain Makoto Hasebe said on Thursday evening, referring to Brazil’s 3-0 victory over France last week. “The team they put out there wasn’t different from the one that played us, and they’re still the top team in the world.
“But they do have a few chinks in their armor we can take advantage of. And it’s not just one or two. For example, there’s lots of space behind their fullbacks because they like to overlap, and they don’t defend set pieces that well.”
Added Yasuhito Endo, “If we sit back, we won’t be anywhere near as good we can be. Besides, we’re not good enough to play for a draw against Brazil even if we wanted to.
“Our main focus should be on trying to perform to the best of our ability — not them.”
While Japan has never beaten Brazil at the full international level, with seven defeats from nine past meetings, the current Selecao is ranked 22nd — the lowest Brazil has ever been ranked by FIFA.
Under former Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, who guided Brazil to its fifth World Cup in 2002, the Confederations Cup holders have just two wins and four draws from seven matches since November.
Japan was spanked by Brazil last fall under Scolari’s predecessor, Mano Menezes, but the Asian champions evidently came away with a few hints from that game for Saturday’s opening match of the Confederations Cup.
“In the game in October, we were caught out too often,” Hasebe said. “You let up even the slightest bit and they will punish you, so that’s something we need to be wary of.
“We won’t have much time on the ball, though, because they like to press from the front. The most important thing will be to shoot whenever we attack.”
And there was bad news for Brazil on Thursday, good news for Japan. In training, three Brazilian starters — midfielders Oscar of Chelsea and Paulinho of Corinthians and Fluminese forward Fred all pulled up lame and remain doubtful for this weekend.
Some regard Alberto Zaccheroni’s side to be the best Japanese team of all time. While that may be a point of debate, at least one thing can be said with certainty about this group of players — that they are not intimidated by Brazil.
“The manager has said our goal for the Confederations Cup is to surprise the world,” Hasebe said. “We’ve got a lot more players in Europe right now but we still have some catching up to do.
“We’re up for the challenge.”