Japan is well capable of doing a great job at the 2014 World Cup, according to former captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, who is confident the Samurai Blue can achieve success.
Japan were one of the surprise packages at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, beating Cameroon and Denmark in the group stage before being narrowly eliminated by Paraguay in a penalty shoot-out in the round-of-16. That team played a fairly conservative style of football though, and their hesitant approach against Paraguay still rankles with many in the country who believe the South Americans were there for the taking.
This year’s side made it to Brazil by playing a more expansive variation of the beautiful game, and Miyamoto has been impressed with Alberto Zaccheroni’s work over the past four years, which has included a record fourth Asian Cup triumph.
“The team has specifically developed in terms of dominating games with an attacking philosophy since the previous World Cup,” the 37-year-old told Al Jazeera. “Zaccheroni contributed by introducing that philosophy.”
This side has players who are playing in Europe – concretely, 12 out of 23. We had only four in 2002
Miyamoto burst into the consciousness of football fans across the globe when he starred as captain in a protective mask when Japan co-hosted the 2002 World Cup. He assumed the armband from the injured Ryuzo Morioka during their opener against Belgium and his combative performances in the accessory – worn as a precaution after he broke his nose in a pre-tournament warm-up game – became a symbol of the spirit.
The team then reached the knockout stage of a World Cup for the first time.
The former Gamba Osaka, Red Bull Salzburg, and Vissel Kobe defender also led his country at Germany 2006, and has been keeping himself busy since he retired from playing in 2011. He thinks the performances of Japan’s overseas stars will be vital to the team’s chances of success in Brazil.
“The national team has significantly changed [since 2002],” he said. “This side has players who are playing in Europe – concretely, 12 out of 23. We had only four in 2002. Their experience and confidence will definitely enhance the team’s performance.”
The achievement of making the second round 12 years ago was a watershed moment for Japan, who had lost all three of their games at their only previous finals appearance at France 1998, and Miyamoto feels it provided subsequent generations with the belief that they could go toe-to-toe with the top sides.
“The success in 2002 had a huge impact on Japanese football. We were convinced that we had been able to compete with good teams at the World Cup and this confidence led to the success of the current team.
“The strong points of [this year’s] team include the fact that there are experienced players playing in Europe, [the side’s] attacking style of football, and their discipline. As for a weak point, the team doesn’t have many tall players to provide security when defending set pieces.”
Poor start in Brazil
Japan got off to a disappointing start in their opening game last Saturday, surrendering the lead to go down 2-1 to Ivory Coast, with both goals coming in the space of two minutes from headers after crosses from the right.
It was Keisuke Honda who had put them ahead in the first half and Miyamoto is in no doubt that the bleach-blonde forward is the key man for Japan as they look to progress from Group C.
“Honda has scored important goals and created many chances for the team,” he said of the former CSKA Moscow star. “Although he struggled to find his place at AC Milan in the previous season he will definitely be the most important player for the Japan team in Brazil.”
Honda – never one to shy away from speaking his mind or making audacious predictions – has declared that he and teammates can go all the way in Brazil, and while Miyamoto is hesitant to make claims quite so bold he also has confidence that the team can do well.
“Some of the squad have mentioned that they could make it to the final. In my opinion that seems difficult, but if the team gets through the group stage everything will be open.”