Football: Japan eye perfect preparation against Brazil

BRASïLIA (AFP) - Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said his side were raring to go as they prepare to take on hosts Brazil in Saturday's Confederations Cup opener in Brasilia.

The last time the two nations faced off, Brazil won a friendly 4-0 in Poland last October.

But since then the Blue Samurai have become the first team to book their World Cup berth for next summer's jamboree, also in Brazil.

Zaccheroni says Japan may be facing in Brazil, Italy and Mexico three teams with a higher Fifa ranking, but insists they will be no pushovers.

"We have known we were coming for the past two years and are proud to be in this select group of teams. Our group is not an easy one but we have grown lately and so our objective in this competition is to show the world Japan's improvements," said Zaccheroni.

"Beyond that, we want to glean important experience ahead of the World Cup next year."

Asian champions Japan have in the likes of Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa and fellow Europe-based star Keisuke Honda no shortage of talent to give Brazil and their other Group A rivals a run for their money Zaccheroni acknowledges as much.

"We have a young and highly-motivated squad blended in with some experienced players going back to before I took over.

"We are looking forward to the opening game against the hosts. I think they are favourites to win - they won the last two editions and are playing at home.

"But that doesn't mean we are not up for getting a result.

"When we got together a few weeks ago we were not in best shape having only just come off World Cup qualifiers but we have certainly improved.

"Here, we have not had much time to overcome the time difference as we only got in two days ago. Clearly we are up against a strong opponent and so we must work as hard as possible."

Japan managed a runners-up Confederations Cup finish in 2001, but they have never beaten Brazil in nine attempts.

Even so, Zaccheroni says they are on the right track.

"I think Japan have improved a lot in the past few years, as is the case with Asian football generally. In order to gauge where we are at we need to play this game.

"I don't think we are yet on a par with the strongest teams in the world but this competition, and the World Cup next year, will show us how far behind we may be.

"Japan is a very ambitious country and we are doing all we can to reduce this gap. You can only gauge that by playing games against top sides. We will see what happens in these two competitions - the Confederations Cup and the World Cup."

The Italian, who is also looking forward to taking on his homeland in Salvador on June 22, meanwhile refused to reveal his line-up for Saturday, saying: "I will just say all 23 players are ready."

That includes Honda, who has been nursing a thigh injury which marred his preparations for the event, though he did score the penalty against Australia which sealed World Cup qualification.

"In the last few days he has trained regularly so I think he will be able to play," Zaccheroni told reporters.

Looking back to the friendly loss to the Selecao in Poland he mused: "That loss was another game and tomorrow is an official game in very different circumstances.

"Our morale is high."