Japan eye Asian Cup as World Cup stepping stone
Tokyo, January 04, 2011
First Published: 09:33 IST(4/1/2011)
Last Updated: 09:37 IST(4/1/2011)
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni is chasing a record fourth win at this month's Asian Cup as a crucial stepping stone in the build-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
A win in Qatar would guarantee the Blue Samurai a berth at the Confederations Cup, held by the World Cup host nation a year before the four-yearly showpiece and featuring the various continental champions.
The tournament gives teams a crucial taste of conditions ahead of the World Cup.
"The Asian Cup is a tournament for us to win and clinch a berth in the Confederations Cup," he told his squad at their training camp before flying out Monday for the continental championship in Qatar, according to press reports.
Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa told reporters: "The manager told us, 'Let's win the Asian Cup and take part in the Confederations Cup.' If the manager spells out a goal that way, it makes life easier for the players."
Kagawa, 21, has a good goalscoring record after moving to Dortmund in mid-2010 when he failed to make Japan's World Cup squad for South Africa.
He scored eight goals in the Bundesliga before the winter break and is expected to lead Japan's attack along with CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda at the Asian Cup, starting on Friday.
Zaccheroni took over from Takeshi Okada as Japan coach after the side reached the last-16 in South Africa in June for their best ever World Cup finish on foreign soil.
In the 2007 edition of the Asian Cup, Japan lost to fellow three-time champions Saudi Arabia 3-2 in the semi-finals. The two Asian giants are grouped together with Jordan and Syria in Group B.
"I have set my sights on the title. That's all I'm thinking of," said Gamba Osaka playmaker Yasuhito Endo, who scored a free-kick in Japan's 3-1 win over Denmark in the World Cup group stage.
"I have realised how difficult it is to become champions," said the 30-year-old player, who is the oldest in Zaccheroni's squad and the only one who has experienced the past two Asian Cup editions.
"It is tough to take it upon yourself to win any game in Asia. But I will play with confidence in myself and my teammates," Endo said.