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Japan coach dismisses underdog tag

27 February 2014, 16:26

Tokyo - Japan coach, Alberto Zaccheroni said Thursday his squad can match Colombia, Ivory Coast and Greece in their World Cup group, despite their underdog status in the global pecking order.

"I am confident we can go head-to-head with any of them if we perform to the best of our abilities," the Italian tactician said as he announced his squad for a friendly against New Zealand in Tokyo next Wednesday.

"About gaps with other teams in the group, I feel there are not so big gaps. I'd rather say there are none."

Zaccheroni called up the usual suspects for the 23-man squad including Keisuke Honda, who has yet to show a spark in AC Milan's midfield after moving from CSKA Moscow in January, and Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa who has mostly warmed the bench under David Moyes.

Inter Milan's Yuto Nagatomo is expected to play left back for Japan as usual. But Schalke defender Atsuto Uchida and Nuremberg midfielder Makoto Hasebe were dropped due to injuries.

The Blue Samurai, four-time Asian champions, will play Cyprus at home on May 27 in their only other warm-up match before the World Cup months of June and July.

Zaccheroni said New Zealand, who failed to qualify for Brazil but impressed at South Africa 2010 with three draws at the group stage, are "ideal opponents" at this point.

"They are physically strong and it will be an important game in our preparations."

Japan's opponents in World Cup Group C are all ranked higher in the FIFA table. Colombia stand fifth against Greece (12), Ivory Coast (23) and Japan (50).

Zaccheroni believed Japan, known for their well organised play that they frequently fail to convert into goals, may not feel there is such a gap with group opponents "if we play our own brand of football".


Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege/BEL), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds) Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)

Defenders: Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata) Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka) Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata) Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan/ITA) Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo) Maya Yoshida (Southampton/ENG) Hiroki Sakai (Hannover/GER) Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart/GER)

Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka) Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima) Hajime Hosogai (Hertha Berlin/GER) Keisuke Honda (AC Milan/ITA) Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United/ENG) Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremberg/GER) Manabu Saito (Yokohama Marinos) Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka)

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz/GER) Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka) Masato Kudo (Kashiwa Reysol) Yuya Osako (TSV 1860 Munich/GER).

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