RECIFE, BRAZIL – During his three years as Japan manager, Alberto Zaccheroni has generally kept it dry, remaining a cool customer when speaking to the media.
But on the eve of Wednesday’s Confederations Cup match against his native Italy, the normally reserved Zaccheroni admitted to being overwhelmed by a matchup he never dreamed of seeing.
“This game is just another stop on the road toward the World Cup for Japan, but for me, clearly it means a lot more than that,” Zaccheroni said.
“When I began my coaching career, I imagined a lot of things but not this. I never thought I would be coaching a team against Italy and in an official competition, too. This is no ordinary game.
“Out of respect for Japan, who have trusted me with the task of looking after their team, I don’t think I’ll be singing the Italian national anthem.”
Japan can use a positive result against Italy after losing 3-0 to host Brazil in Saturday’s opening match. Italy on Sunday defeated Mexico 2-1 in Group A.
Without going into detail, Zaccheroni said he will make changes to the team that faced Brazil and asked his troops to display more “courage” on Wednesday against the four-time world champions.
Japan and Italy have met once previously, back in 2001 in a friendly that ended 1-1 at Saitama.
“Needless to say, tomorrow will be a different story because we are facing a different team,” Zaccheroni said. “So I will field a different team because we will need different solutions.
“Tomorrow I hope to see the players I like to think I know and not the shy ones who were on the pitch against Brazil. Italy are clearly the better team on paper. But even great teams have their off days and should you face them then, you have to be prepared to take advantage.”
“Our opponents were runnersup at the European championship,” Zaccheroni continued. “They lost only to the champions, Spain. They are superb in all areas of the pitch and Italy have prepared well for the Confederations Cup.
“Their manager is a friend and colleague who I admire. He has brought excellent balance to the team.”
Cesare Prandelli, Zaccheroni’s opposite number and a fellow northern Italian, named Shinji Kagawa as a player to watch for Japan but made it clear its coach is the one the Azzurri need to keep an eye on.
“Japan are a dangerous team led by a great manager who knows how to get the most out of his players,” Prandelli said. “He has brought balance and stability to the team and has talented players at his disposal.
“Kagawa is interesting, but I’m not too concerned of their players individually. I think Alberto and the way he prepares will be more threatening to us because he is such an excellent reader of the game.”
Zaccheroni has urged his team to grab the first goal, Inter Milan’s Yuto Nagatomo said.
“A household name like Italy, they’re not used to falling behind,” Nagatomo said. “If we score the first goal, that will put them under a lot of pressure.
“Before I came here, I asked (injured Inter and Italy striker Antonio) Cassano for some tips. He gave me a few personal descriptions of their players which could be useful.”