The Asian Cup represents an excellent opportunity for Japan to win back the fans they let down with a dismal World Cup display last year but claiming a fifth title will not be easy, captain Makoto Hasebe said on Friday.
The defending Asian Cup champions finished their World Cup campaign in Brazil with only one point, from a goalless draw with a 10-man Greece, and the group stage exit prompted coach Alberto Zaccheroni to resign in June.
"We let down our supporters with the results we had in Brazil and we want to try and win them back with good results and good performances," Hasebe was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency ahead of the team`s departure for Australia.
The Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder, however, acknowledged it will not be an easy task for the Blue Samurai, who begin their Group D campaign against Palestine on Jan. 12 and face Iraq and Jordan in subsequent matches.
"I think the level of Asian soccer is improving. The players that have played in World Cup qualifiers feel that," he added.
"Teams like Uzbekistan, Qatar and Bahrain, Jordan too. Those teams from the Middle East are getting better and it will not be easy to beat them.
"The days of beating Uzbekistan 5-0 are over. Each game is going to be very tough. We know it will be difficult but we have to have hunger to win the championship," the 30-year-old said.
Fellow midfielder Keisuke Honda agreed with Hasebe`s assessment of their regional rivals.
"We won the Asian Cup last time and there will be teams really challenging us for the title. We have a chance to win the championship but also know that we could be beaten by anyone," the AC Milan player said.
"The important thing is to go into the games in the right frame of mind," he added.