SAITAMA – Manchester United attacker Shinji Kagawa has played down the significance of Japan’s upcoming World Cup warmups and says results will only count when the Asian champions’ Group C campaign gets under way against Cote d’Ivoire on June 14.
Japan plays Cyprus in a send-off match in Saitama on Tuesday night and Alberto Zaccheroni’s men then depart on Thursday for the United States, where they will play two more tune-ups in Florida against Costa Rica and Zambia.
Four years ago, Japan’s preparations for the finals were less than ideal. Then-coach Takeshi Okada offered to resign after a 2-0 home defeat to South Korea, but he backtracked afterward to say it was a “joke.”
Okada’s team also lost to England and Cote d’Ivoire in friendlies but won its World Cup opener 1-0 against Cameroon and went on to reach the second round for the first time on foreign soil before being eliminated 5-3 on penalties after a 0-0 draw with Paraguay.
“Four years ago, we played strong opposition (in the build-up) and there were some things that didn’t go very well,” said Kagawa, who was not in the squad for South Africa but traveled with the team as one of a handful of development players.
“But after that things changed. This time we are heading into matches feeling tired and it won’t be a problem if we lose them, although obviously it would be better if we did get good results.
“I have gotten a good impression of what we have been doing in training and we have to replicate that in matches. We want to head to the finals with a good feeling after the last two matches (against Costa Rica and Zambia).”
Zaccheroni admitted his players would not be at their peak for the Cyprus match and said he would speak to his physical conditioning coaches before deciding on whether to play captain Makoto Hasebe, Maya Yoshida and Atsuto Uchida, all of whom have only recently come back from injury.
“I can’t expect the players to be really sharp physically but I want them to have their wits about them,” the Italian told a press conference.
“I will decide on playing time (for Uchida, Yoshida and Hasebe) after speaking to the conditioning coaches tonight. It is not a big deal if they don’t start the game, how many minutes they can play is more important. Obviously the main goal is to get them 100 percent fit for the World Cup.”
Japan, making its fifth consecutive appearance at the World Cup finals, is scheduled to arrive on Brazil on June 7. Zaccheroni’s men also face Greece and Colombia in Group C.