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Japan challenged to show mettle Zaccheroni ‘positive’

ITU, Brazil, June 22, (Agencies): Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni challenged his players on Saturday to rediscover their best form as they prepare to battle to salvage their World Cup dream, scrapping training to give them a rest. The Asian champions lost their first match 2-1 to Ivory Coast and were involved in a drab 0-0 stalemate with 10-man Greece in their second, leaving them not in control of their destiny. Colombia have six points after two victories, with Ivory Coast second in Group C on three points. Japan and Greece both have a single point, though the Europeans have an inferior goal difference. But the veteran Italian coach said despite his side’s woes, he was feeling “pretty positive” ahead of their match against Colombia on Tuesday in Cuiaba. Zaccheroni said he could not pin down a single reason why the Blue Samurai had failed to fire in Brazil, with only a single goal from Keisuke Honda to show for their efforts.

“We haven’t had enough speed in our play and it’s as though the players have been playing with the brakes on,” he said. “The problem is probably mental. “The result of the first game seems to have affected the following game. That’s why now I have to work on that but I have full faith in our players and they have good capability to handle the situation.” Speaking at the team’s training base in Itu, Zaccheroni said he had given the players the day off on Saturday so they could relax and clear their minds. “I don’t see any problems in their physical fitness,” he said. “But I thought it would be better to give them a mental boost so they can be ready for the next game.” Zaccheroni, who succeeded Takeshi Okada after the Blue Samurai reached the last 16 at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, led Japan to their fourth Asian Cup title the following year. They reached Brazil in style, topping their Asian qualifying group ahead of Australia, but they have failed to impress so far, looking short on firepower.

Meanwhile, Zaccheroni is facing arguably the most important team selection of his four-year tenure in Japan, and once again it revolves around whether to start star playmaker Shinji Kagawa. Kagawa, coming off a disappointing season at club level for Manchester United, was dropped for the 0-0 draw against Greece on Thursday after making little impact in the opening 2-1 loss to Ivory Coast. It’s a gamble that has been scrutinized endlessly in Japan, where Kagawa holds celebrity status, and it remains to be seen if Zaccheroni recalls him for the must-win Colombia match.

“That is something the coach decides and has nothing to do with being Japan’s number 10,” Kagawa said. “I respect the coach. I felt in the first match that I wasn’t performing. In both matches I haven’t been able to get the results I wanted. “But I’m going to try to turn that around in the next match.” It’s a selection poser that could define Zaccheroni’s tenure that may end after the World Cup, particularly if Japan fails to advance from the group. He was the big European name that Japan’s football hierarchy targeted to take the national team to the next level, but it isn’t working out that way. “What happens after the World Cup is the last thing on my mind,” Zaccheroni said at the start of the tournament. “The only thing that’s decided is that I’ll go on vacation in my home town in Italy. “When you have the opportunity to take part in the World Cup it isn’t easy to make plans for the future.”


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