Dutch legend Edgar Davids believes Japan can spring a surprise at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, calling on the likes of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa to inspire a future generation of players watching at home.
Davids, who reached the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup with the Netherlands and won 74 caps for his country, was in Tokyo on Friday in his role as ambassador for former team Juventus alongside club president Andrea Agnelli.
Davids did not play in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea after the Netherlands failed to qualify, but the 40-year-old, known as “the Pitbull” in his playing days for his ferocious, all-action style, believes Japan can emulate the Koreans’ run to the semifinals of that tournament if luck goes its way in Brazil.
“They have an OK squad and they are organized very well, but the World Cup is the World Cup,” Davids said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “Sometimes you need a bit of luck. If you look at 2002, Korea did very well unexpectedly.
“Something like that could also happen to Japan. It’s always difficult to say how a team is going to do at the World Cup but there is always a possibility to be the dangerous outsider.”
Japan lost all three of its games at last year’s Confederations Cup in Brazil, but Davids believes the experience will help not just Zaccheroni’s side this summer, but also the generations to come.
“That Japan was already there was very important, because they represented their region,” Davids said of Japan’s Confederations Cup campaign, which ended in defeats to Brazil, Italy and Mexico. “I think it’s very important for the Japanese to be on that stage, because when you do that it inspires younger talents to be football players.
“A lot of players, like myself, are influenced by what other guys have done in the past in the national team. It’s very important for Japan to be there in the first place, because there are countries who are not represented there. It means they are already taking a big step in the right direction.”
Japan’s soccer progress over the last 20 years has been such that several national team players now ply their trade with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, with Kagawa at Manchester United, Yuto Nagatomo at Inter Milan and Honda joining AC Milan in January.
Juventus is one of the few top Italian sides never to have signed a Japanese player, but Agnelli is keen to change that with one eye firmly on his club’s commercial interests.
“If you want to put a spotlight onto a team in a different country, having a player coming from that country is the easiest way forward,” said the 38-year-old, who took over as president in 2010. “I think Japan, especially in recent years, has started to deliver some excellent football talents, if you think about Honda and Kagawa and Nagatomo. So we are looking at that.
“You also have to put things into perspective and understand where we are coming from with our recent history. There has been a complete changeover of the squad. We focused on players who have had successes in their history. Winning is difficult and you need to know how to win.”
Juventus won the Toyota Cup twice in Tokyo, but the Turin club has not played a game in Japan since taking on Yokohama F. Marinos and FC Tokyo in 2005.
“We have very limited time out of the official season calendar if you take into account the clubs’ calendar and the national teams’ calendar,” said Agnelli. “This year we have the World Cup, last year we had the Confederations Cup and the year before we had the Euros.
“Japan is clearly a place that we would love to come and play, but it’s not easy. We will try our utmost.”