YOKOHAMA – Japan manager Alberto Zaccheroni urged his players to hone their touch in front of goal against Ghana on Tuesday — or risk being embarrassed by another of the world’s top teams.
The Asian champions coasted past Guatemala 3-0 on Friday in Osaka, but Zaccheroni on Monday said he was not pleased with his team’s lack of accuracy against a Central American side already out of the picture for next year’s World Cup.
Zaccheroni said should Japan fail to make the most of their opportunities against Ghana, who reached the quarterfinals at the 2010 World Cup and are on course to qualify for Brazil, they will be pay the price.
Last month in a friendly in Miyagi Prefecture, Zaccheroni’s side was battered 4-2 at the hands of South American champions Uruguay.
“Looking back on the Guatemala game, we took 29 shots but scored only three times,” the Italian said. “We basically had an opportunity once every three minutes, so we should have done a lot better than just three goals.
“We’ll have far fewer chances against Ghana tomorrow. Ghana can cover a lot of ground at top speed, and are stronger than us physically. We have to try to outplay them as a group and shy away from playing a physical game.”
“Compared to most African teams, Ghana work very hard and give it their best even in friendlies. It’s why their results in friendlies have been good.”
Ghana beat Zambia 2-1 at home in a World Cup qualifier Friday, and the bulk of that team is here for the match at Nissan Stadium. In their previous meeting, Japan edged Ghana 4-3 in a 2009 friendly in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
“All these players will be going to the World Cup next year,” Ghana coach James Appiah said. “I’m sure we can give Japan a very, very good game tomorrow.
“Every coach’s ambition is to do better than the last. We reached the quarterfinals, and our mission is to get to the semifinals. We believe we have the players to get that far.”
Tough competition is a good evaluation tool for coaches.
“We need to play the likes of Uruguay and Ghana to improve,” Zaccheroni said. “Even if we don’t play well in the games against them, we can’t let it lower our confidence.
“Results count for something in friendlies, but the most important thing is to keep molding the team for next year.”
With Mainz forward Shinji Okazaki having pulled out with a left-knee injury, Kashiwa Reysol’s Masato Kudo could get the starting nod. And Kudo was confident he can displace Okazaki — for good.
“I’m confident certain parts of my game are better than Okazaki’s,” said Kudo, who has 15 goals in the J. League for Kashiwa this season, only three behind Kawasaki Frontale leader Yoshito Okubo.
“I think the quality of my diagonal runs is better, and I feel I’m better in one-on-ones with the ‘keeper. I’m convinced I don’t take a backseat to him; it’s just a matter of going out and showing it.”