Sports

Japan boss Zaccheroni setting his sights high

JAPAN

Japan were the first nation to qualify for the Finals and this stylish team appear to be brimming with confidence under the guidance of veteran Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni.

This summer’s showpiece marks Japan’s fifth successive appearance at the tournament and they were within a penalty shootout loss to Paraguay of progressing to the quarter-finals last time around in South Africa.

Former AC Milan manager Zaccheroni has his sights trained on making a big impact.

“Just qualifying is not enough,” he said.

“We will aim even higher in Brazil.”

Japanese football has been somewhat smitten with Zaccheroni since he succeeded Takeshi Okada after the last Finals.

A team playing with freedom registered a shock friendly win over Argentina before collecting the 2011 Asian Cup - with Australia beaten 1-0 in the final due to Tadanari Lee’s sensational volley.

A fourth-place finish at the London 2012 Olympics followed and resounding victories over Oman and Jordan got the final qualifying stage of World Cup qualifying off to a wonderful start – the latter dispatched 6-0 on the back of a Keisuke Honda (above) hat-trick.

Jordan would earn a surprise return win, with a 1-1 draw with Australia booking their trip to Brazil.

Three defeats at the 2013 Confederations Cup followed but, in arguably the game of the tournament, Japan’s 4-3 loss to Italy showed they will definitely be worth keeping an eye on.