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Zaccheroni focused on fitness levels

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Japan boss Alberto Zaccheroni said Sunday getting several key players back to full match fitness is more important than the result of a World Cup warmup in the United States on Monday against Costa Rica.

Zaccheroni hopes to use the game against Costa Rica and Friday’s friendly against Zambia to give more playing time to the likes of Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa and other players who have not seen much playing time with their European clubs.

Kagawa was rarely used by David Moyes at United this past season before the coach was sacked near the end of the campaign, although he told Kyodo News he feels “in good condition.”

“I got games at the end (for United) so I am not sure what the coach (Zaccheroni) is thinking. I feel that my condition is improving,” said Kagawa.

The trio of Schalke defender Atsuto Uchida, who scored in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Cyprus in Saitama, regular captain Makoto Hasebe of Nuremberg and Southampton defender Maya Yoshida are all looking to regain match fitness after lengthy spells on the sidelines through injury. All three got 45 minutes against Cyprus.

“The main focus will be on the players’ condition and playing time instead of getting a good result,” Zaccheroni told a news conference. “Other countries’ friendlies are taking place these days and that is what they are focusing on too so that they can perform well at the World Cup.

“I understand it is not easy to maintain high intensity in this humidity and these temperatures, but we have to adapt so we can acclimatize to a similar environment in Brazil.”

Stuttgart defender Gotoku Sakai has been training separately from the team since his knee flared up at a training camp in Kagoshima Prefecture earlier this month.

“Gotoku is working out separately from the main group but he is getting better and I don’t think there is a problem. As for Hasebe, Yoshida and Uchida, they all had a half against Cyprus and obviously I will try and give them a longer run out in the next game.”

Costa Rica is the rank outsider in a Group D in Brazil that includes Uruguay, Italy and England, but Zaccheroni warned against underestimating the Central Americans.

“Costa Rica are a good side, work hard and did well in the World Cup qualifiers and have players playing in Europe. They are in a very difficult group including Italy and Uruguay but if they can maintain good physical condition then I think they can do well,” said the Italian.

Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto is well aware of the test that Japan will provide and admitted he is glad that his team will not be facing Zaccheroni’s men at the World Cup.

“It’s going to be a very difficult game. We have watched some of their games in World Cup qualification. Kagawa and (Keisuke) Honda are among their better players and we are aware of their talent and technique,” said Pinto.

“We wouldn’t want to face them in the World Cup because they are a tough team.”

Costa Rica will head to Brazil without a key piece of its attack as ace striker Alvaro Saborio will miss the tournament due to a foot fracture he suffered recently in training.

Pinto admitted Saborio would be sorely missed but said the show must go on without him.

“He (Saborio) is very difficult to replace of course but we are not changing our tactics or strategy,” he said.