Zaccheroni comes out swinging ahead of Low Countries trip

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

Under-fire national team manager Alberto Zaccheroni has defended his record ahead of this month’s friendlies against the Netherlands and Belgium, pointing to the medals he has won during his three years in charge as evidence.

Japan heads to Belgium to face the Dutch in Genk on Nov. 16 before taking on the Belgians in Brussels three days later, with criticism of the team still fresh following abject away losses to Serbia and Belarus last month.

But Zaccheroni rejected suggestions that Japan is doomed to struggle at next summer’s World Cup in Brazil as he announced his squad on Thursday, insisting that his team has rarely failed to get results when it matters most on his watch since taking over in September 2010.

“At the moment it’s more important to play well than to get results,” said the Italian, who was assured by the JFA last month that his job is safe ahead of the World Cup. “We’ve played in four competitions where the results counted — the Asian Cup, the World Cup qualifiers, the Confederations Cup and the East Asian Cup. The only one we didn’t win was the Confederations Cup.

“Now the big goal is the World Cup, and we are working to prepare for that as best we can. Winning a handful of games now is not the main objective.”

Zaccheroni named a familiar squad with no new faces, but handed a recall to Kashima Antlers striker Yuya Osako and FC Tokyo midfielder Hideto Takahashi after both were dropped for last month’s games.

“It’s simply a matter of rotation,” said Zaccheroni. “These two players did well in September and October, so they’re in the squad this time. In the previous games there were other players I wanted to take a look at. These players have done well at their clubs and with the national team the last time they were with us, so I wanted to look at them again.

“I haven’t forgotten about anyone. Me and my staff are looking at all the players. The door is always open for everyone.”

Belgium is currently fifth in the FIFA rankings while the Dutch are eighth, with both teams having already booked their places at the World Cup after breezing through their qualification campaigns.

“The Netherlands and Belgium are excellent opponents,” said Zaccheroni. “Both teams were among the three best teams in the World Cup qualifiers. Germany have had better results, but since 2009 there hasn’t been a better team in the world than the Netherlands.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how we match up against them. The Netherlands have great movement, and Belgium are a big, physical team.”

Zaccheroni admitted that last month’s 2-0 loss to Serbia and 1-0 defeat to Belarus fell short of expectations, but the former Milan and Juventus manager is confident that his team can put things right over the coming weeks.

“We didn’t play as well as we could in the games we had in October,” said Zaccheroni. “These games coming up might be friendly matches, but test matches would probably be a better way of putting it. We want to see how our speed and accuracy matches up against teams as good as these.

“In the previous games our attacking wasn’t up to scratch but we defended well. We didn’t have so many problems at the back, but we weren’t accurate enough in attack.”