Football: ‘Smashing’ Japan lift World Cup spirits

  Football: ‘Smashing’ Japan lift World Cup spirits

TOKYO - Japan's shock 3-2 win over Belgium was showered with praise by domestic media Thursday as Alberto Zaccheroni's men lifted spirits ahead of next year's World Cup.

After last week's impressive 2-2 draw with the Netherlands, Keisuke Honda inspired a famous win for the Asian champions against one of the world's mostly highly rated teams.

"Smashing down Belgium, world's No. 5," said a headline in the Sports Nippon, after the game in Brussels late on Wednesday.

Yoichiro Kakitani, Honda and Shinji Okazaki were all on target, eclipsing Belgium's opener through Kevin Mirallas and a late strike from Toby Alderweireld.

Japan's form comes at a welcome time after they were criticised for a dip since qualifying for the World Cup, including three unanswered defeats at last year's Confederations Cup.

Japan, Asia's highest-ranked team at 44 in the FIFA ratings, also bowed 2-0 to Serbia and 1-0 to Belarus during another European friendly tour last month.

"Honda revived Japan with his propulsive force and uncompromising spirit when the squad seemed to deteriorate since qualifying for the World Cup," the Nikkan Sports said.

Zaccheroni was also able to rotate his European-based stars and domestic J-League players, increasing Japan's strength in depth as they head towards the World Cup in Brazil next year.

"The tour encouraged more competition among players in the squad, boosting the bench strength as a result," the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun said.

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