Football: Japan coach says fighting spirit alone not enough

Football: Japan coach says fighting spirit alone not enough
Japan's national soccer team head coach Alberto Zaccheroni.

SAITAMA, Japan - Japan must produce cutting edge quality to match their intensity if they are to progress from their World Cup group in Brazil, head coach Alberto Zaccheroni said on Monday.

The Italian insisted his 'Blue Samurai' will be in peak condition for their opening game against Ivory Coast on June 14 but warned that Japan's famed fighting spirit alone will not be enough.

"Obviously there are teams at the World Cup with more quality than us," Zaccheroni told reporters before Tuesday's final home warm-up against Cyprus.

"We must demand that quality to go with the intensity we bring. Intensity alone won't get the job done. Quality and right mentality are also crucial if we want to beat top the teams." Japan reached the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup, losing on penalties to Paraguay, equalling their best performance as co-hosts of the 2002 tournament.

Zaccheroni's employers have ambitiously set their sights on the quarter-finals in Brazil.

Captain Makoto Hasebe is set for a run-out in Saitama after returning from a knee injury, with right-back Atsuto Uchida also recovering from a thigh strain.

"They both look to be finding their way back," said Zaccheroni, whose side also face Greece and Colombia in Group C.

"It's all about getting the players in peak condition for the first match, being 100 per cent for Ivory Coast." Japan will have added incentive to produce a shock at the World Cup after watching their female counterparts lift the Asian Cup at the weekend, added Zaccheroni.

"It was a fantastic victory and will give us extra motivation," he said. "The women were already the world champions, now Asian champions too. I'm very proud." Japan's ladies, nicknamed 'Nadeshiko' after a delicate pink flower, beat Australia 1-0 in Sunday's final in Ho Chi Minh, joining the men as Asian Cup holders.

Zaccheroni named a full-strength squad for Brazil, where talisman Keisuke Honda and the mercurial Shinji Kagawa will be key to Japan's hopes in their fifth successive World Cup appearance.

After beginning his reign as Japan coach with a shock 1-0 win over two-time World Cup winners Argentina at Saitama in September 2010, Zaccheroni will expect a wider margin of victory against Cyprus.

"It's an important test, to see where we are in terms of our preparations," said the 61-year-old. "Cyprus are like Greece - defensively solid, aggressive. But I want the players to put in a shift." After Tuesday's game, Japan play further friendlies against Costa Rica (June 2) and Zambia (June 6) in Tampa, Florida, before flying to Brazil.

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