RECIFE, BRAZIL – Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni says his Blue Samurai must not approach Saturday’s World Cup opener against Cote d’Ivoire fearing defeat, and pointed to Spain’s World Cup win four years ago as proof that losing the first match does not mean the end of the tournament.
“Starting on the right foot is important but there will still be two more matches to go and it doesn’t mean that a team that doesn’t score tomorrow or perform well is out of the tournament,” the Italian coach told a news conference on Friday.
“Spain lost in their opening match four years ago (a 1-0 defeat to Switzerland) but then subsequently went on to win the World Cup,” he said.
Much has been made of the physical superiority Cote d’Ivoire has over the Japanese, who rely on swift, short passing movements, but Zaccheroni also warned that there is more to the Elephants than just muscle.
“I think that each team at this World Cup is here to show its own features and talents. Physical force is an important feature but it is not the only quality the Ivory Coast has so I am not sure whether physical power will be pivotal.
“I think they will give us a bit of trouble but it won’t be a crucial element. But if we don’t play well it might turn out to be the crucial element.”
The last time Japan played at Arena Pernambuco, it dominated Italy for long periods before eventually going down 4-3 to the former world champion at last year’s Confederations Cup.
Zaccheroni said he hopes his players have learned from that experience.
“That was one of the best matches that we played in the past four years and it was against one of the best teams in the world,” he said.
“I think we managed to play a good quality game and had great dynamism. I can’t say that I have great memories of course because we lost. Nevertheless, I do hope that match served as an experience for this World Cup because that was a bit of a mini World Cup.”
Japan reached the second round of the World Cup for the first time on foreign soil four years ago in South Africa, but Zaccheroni did not offer much when asked to predict how far he thinks Japan can progress this time around.
“I am not someone who likes to make statements. I am a man of beliefs. The team has grown and it has developed,” said the former AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus coach.
“The last important competition that we played was the Confederations Cup and in terms of our maturity I guess we failed. But since then an additional 12 months have elapsed and during that time we have acquired additional experience and this is a test. . . .”