Japan get two days off after narrow Cyprus win
Tokyo: Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni ordered his players to have two days of fun before they depart for their World Cup camp in Florida after they struggled to beat Cyprus 1-0 in a final home tune-up.
The relief at having goalscorer Atsuto Uchida, Maya Yoshida and captain Makoto Hasebe back from injury was offset by Tuesday`s disjointed performance in front of 58,000 in Saitama.
"I`m extremely happy with how Uchida, Yoshida and Hasebe did coming back from injury," Zaccheroni told reporters after a protracted post-match team talk, in which he told them "Enjoy yourselves for two days and after that focus wholly on training and games".
"Hopefully we can increase the number of minutes they play in our last two practice matches (in Tampa against Costa Rica on June 2 and Zambia on June 6). We need them 100 percent for our first match in Brazil."
Japan face Ivory Coast in their World Cup opener on June 14 and will have to improve dramatically to offer a threat to the West Africans, led by talismanic pair Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure.
Japan`s key pair Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda had little impact against a defensive Cyprus side, chosen for their similarities to Group C opponents Greece. Japan will also play Colombia in the group.
Honda, in particular, struggled to impose himself. One embarrassingly sliced first-half free kick was symbolic of the bleach-blond`s contribution as Japan made a meal of their send-off game.Zaccheroni put a positive spin on Japan`s display, saying he anticipated his players would be low on energy after a punishing training camp last week.
"Obviously we`re looking to improve our level of performance," said the Italian. "But I have faith in this team. We might not have been at our sharpest but we still created chances."
However, Japan`s victory failed to paper over the cracks.
The Asian champions looked short of ideas in the final third and hardly inspired confidence at the back. Their clean sheet was more a reflection of Cyprus`s lack of ambition.
Uchida, returning from a thigh injury, poked home his second goal in 66 games for his country two minutes before half-time but did little to dispel fears he remains a defensive liability.
Southampton defender Maya Yoshida had little to do but his lack of pace could be exposed in Brazil.
But Hasebe`s 45-minute appearance will have heartened Zaccheroni, whose boss, Japan soccer chief Kuniya Daini, has demanded the `Blue Samurai` go one better than they did at the 2010 World Cup when they reached the last 16.
That looks a tall order for Japan and Zaccheroni has refused to make any bold predictions.
Four years ago, then-Japan coach Takeshi Okada handed his employers a length of rope to hang him with when he insisted his target in South Africa was the semi-finals.
"I am not the sort of person to make promises like that," said Zaccheroni. "It`s all about working hard to get results."