Zaccheroni says Japan can claim World Cup


Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni is convinced the Blue Samurai have a realistic chance of lifting the World Cup in the not-too-distant future, the Serie A-winning manager said on Tuesday.

“I think Japan have an opportunity to win the World Cup in the future, and I’m not saying this as some sort of cheap flattery,” Zaccheroni said at the JFA House ahead of next week’s World Cup qualifier at home to North Korea.

“Japanese football owes it to itself to keep improving, and people here understand they have to try to catch up and eventually pass the best teams in the world.

“The big teams in the world, on the other hand, have stopped growing because they’ve been on top for so long.”

It’s been almost a year since the 58-year-old Zaccheroni succeeded Takeshi Okada as national coach, and the Italian has yet to taste defeat in the 11 games he has been in charge.

Under the former AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus boss, Japan beat Argentina for the first time and South Korea twice in three meetings with their archrival, most recently a 3-0 thrashing in Sapporo on Aug. 10 — Japan’s first three-goal win over Korea in nearly four decades.

Zaccheroni said when the day comes that his team loses, he will be ready.

“One game isn’t going to change who we are,” Zaccheroni said. “National teams don’t play once every three days but rather once every two months. The important thing is to go into the few games you play in the best possible condition you can be in.

“Besides even when you win, I think it’s important to maintain a sense of objectivity. As a manager, you always have to think on the bright side because the players can sense whether you’re thinking positive or not.”

On Sept. 2 before what should be a rocking sellout crowd at Saitama Stadium, Zaccheroni’s side will open its qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil where Japan will look to improve on their round-of-16 result in South Africa.

Along with North Korea, Japan have been drawn with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the third qualifying round.

Tajikistan replaced Syria, who gave Japan a tough time at the Asian Cup but was disqualified last week after fielding an ineligible player in the previous round.

“I’m not going to calculate points. I’m taking it one game at a time,” Zaccheroni said. “Right now, my mind is on the North Korea game and I would not be the least bit surprised if they delivered their performance-of-the-year against us.

“So my focus isn’t on how many points we can pick up, but for us to try to play our best game of 2011 against them.”

He added that anything is possible in a short-term tournament unlike a league competition, pointing to Denmark’s magical run to the European championship in 1992.