Javier Aguirre has vowed to rise to the challenge of qualifying Japan for the 2018 World Cup in Russia after the former Mexico and Espanyol boss was unveiled as new manager of the national soccer team on Monday.
“Japan is a country that has a lot of fantastic players and I am happy to be the coach. I absolutely want to get the team to the 2018 World Cup in Russia,” Aguirre told a packed news conference in Tokyo.
“For me, accepting this job is a massive challenge and I will be learning every day and will do my best,” added the 55-year-old, who said he turned down offers from Spanish La Liga clubs and other national teams to take the Japan job.
Aguirre, the seventh foreign manager to take charge of the national team and the first Mexican, said he had been contacted about the Japan job four years ago after the South Africa World Cup but could not commit for personal reasons.
“I had other offers from teams in the Spanish League and other countries,” he said, “but the reason I chose Japan is because (JFA technical director Hiromi) Hara-san came calling after the South Africa World Cup and has been monitoring my work since then.”
Aguirre replaces Italian Alberto Zaccheroni following Japan’s disappointing first-round World Cup exit in Brazil.
His first task is to prepare the Japanese to defend the Asian Cup title they won for a record fourth time in Qatar in 2011.
Aguirre’s first game will be a friendly in Sapporo on Sept. 5 against Uruguay, with another exhibition match against Venezuela set for Yokohama four days later.
Further warm-ups for the Asian Cup in Australia in January have been penciled in for October, with Japan to face Jamaica at home on the 10th and Brazil in Singapore on the 14th.
“The game against Uruguay is approaching fast and there won’t be enough time to practice with the players, but I am motivated and will do my best,” said Aguirre.
“I will choose players that have potential and players that are hungry to play for their country. I want not individual but team players that can contribute. I want all 11 players to be able to defend and attack.”
“The important thing is that I get a good look at the players and can analyze them. The door is open to all of them, the ones playing in Japan and the ones playing in Europe. (Choosing the right players) is a long process. The players I pick for the next game won’t necessarily be in for the long term.”
Japan lost 2-1 in its World Cup opener against Cote d’Ivoire. Japan was then held 0-0 by 10-man Greece before its fate was sealed with a 4-1 hammering by Colombia.
Aguirre, who led Mexico to the Round of 16 of the World Cup in both 2002 and 2010, did not want to talk about Japan’s shortcomings in Brazil out of respect for Zaccheroni.
He said he thought the main difference in the level between the Asian champions and the global elite was down to a history of winning titles.
“The top teams are four or five countries like Germany, Brazil, England, Spain and Italy,” Aguirre said. “The difference is that these teams have won (world) titles. Netherlands have not but are technically a very good team and Japan is the same. It is merely a question of having or not having won titles.”
Frenchman Philippe Troussier has been the most successful foreign manager of the national team to date, guiding Japan to the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup, which the country co-hosted with South Korea.
The only other time Japan reached the knockout phase of the tournament was in South Africa in Takeshi Okada’s second stint in charge