Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni and his players are relying on the team’s never-say-die attitude to spur them on at the World Cup.
Japan are prepping themselves to do things the hard way in Brazil as they have a history of falling behind early in games.
A day after battling from behind for a 3-1 victory over World Cup-bound Costa Rica, the Blue Samurai were taking stock of a belief built over four years of hard work since a run to the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
“We don’t give up,” Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima said Tuesday. “We run to the end. There have been many moments in the last four years where we have been able to come back after a difficult situation.”
It’s a faith created from facing tough times together, including losing all three matches at last year’s Confederations Cup in Brazil.
And for Italian Zaccheroni, who guided AC Milan to a pair of Serie A titles, such bonds have given his team a resilience to bounce back from misfortune and make the most from opportunity.
“We have a solid team concept. We have a team identity, a certain character. These factors are a power greater than the first goal,” Zaccheroni said.
“When we give the opponent the first goal, they definitely can play more defensively. The important thing is to analyze why we give up the first goal, realize our error and improve our game. Even if we give up the first goal, we make our chances and we have to focus on finishing.”
Where Japan might have once been one-dimensional and defensive-minded, now there is versatility and attacking flair behind such strikers as AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda and Manchester United forward Shinji Kagawa.
This is a Japan team that knows it can fight back if it must.
“There is an Italian proverb — all grass is different,” Zaccheroni said. “It means every situation is unique.
“In the World Cup, we might give the opponent the first goal. But we will try to score more than they do. We have to focus on the complete game. If something bad happens, we should still try to improve and face it.
“Until the World Cup, we will focus on improving the players’ mentality and finishing goals.”
Shinji Okazaki, a striker who helped Germany’s Mainz reach next season’s Europa League, says World Cup warm-up wins over Cyprus and Costa Rica have provided a confidence boost when it matters most.
“I feel there is a very good atmosphere in our team. Every single player knows that final preparation for the championship is vital,” Okazaki said.
“In the game we have to decide the details, such as when and how to put pressure on the opponent. When times are tough, what we should do to win the game is also up to us.”
“We need to decide this through good communication among the players, which is a bit different from how things were before. I learnt from the previous World Cup that the coherence of the team might decide the match.”
In South Africa, Paraguay ousted Japan on penalties 5-3 to reach the last eight after a goal-less draw.
“As we had good results thanks to a united team last time, I expect we can go further with our four-year effort and the power of a united team,” Okazaki said. “Japan can play very harmoniously together when it counts.”