BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa – Japan coach Takeshi Okada hopes his players can put a turbulent few weeks behind them and follow South Korea’s blueprint for success in their Group E opener against Cameroon on Monday.
South Korea on Saturday brushed aside Greece 2-0 in its first game with the kind of speedy, passing soccer Okada wants his players to produce as they go in search of their first World Cup win on foreign soil in Bloemfontein.
“I saw the game and they (South Korea) really attacked the ball and played so well. They ran their socks off. Now it is our turn,” Okada said after Japan practiced under tight security Saturday at a sports facility at the Central University of Technology.
“We have done all we can do. Our condition has improved and we don’t have anyone struggling. Now it is just a case of whatever will be, will be,” he told reporters.
Okada, who guided Japan to its first World Cup finals but lost all three games in France in 1998, put his own job on the line after his team lost 2-0 to the South Koreans in its final World Cup warmup at home.
Things have since gone from bad to worse for the Blue Samurai. Defeats followed against England and Cote d’ Ivorie before Okada’s men failed to hit the target in a goalless training match against Zimbabwe.
South Korea’s win has increased the pressure on Japan, which has had a bee in its bonnet ever since its bitter Asian rival reached the semifinals of the World Cup the countries co-hosted in 2002.
However, Okada, who was brought in for a second stint in charge of the national team after Bosnian coach Ivica Osim suffered a serious stroke in Nov. 2007, said, “I have never said that I want us to get to the semifinals just because South Korea did. I just said they if they can do it we must have the potential too.”
Okada held an inter-squad match and also focused on set pieces in Saturday’s session played behind closed doors.
Junichi Inamoto, meanwhile, said he expected a tough game against Cameroon and admitted he would he happy with a point.
“Cameroon are not only about (striker Samuel) Eto’o. They’ve got (Alex) Song and they are a very physical, attacking side,” Inamoto said.
“We have to win the first game. A point would be alright but three points would be better as our next game is against Holland and it is very difficult,” added the former Arsenal and Fulham man.