Japan’s coach Alberto Zaccheroni and playmaker Keisuke Honda have vowed to come out fighting against former world champions France and Brazil, despite their underdog status.
“I don’t feel we are going up against teams that are a class above us,” CSKA Moscow’s Honda said as he landed in Paris after scoring a goal and setting up another in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Spartak Moscow.
The Blue Samurai, who reached the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, will play Les Bleus at the Stade de France in Paris on October 12 and Brazil in another friendly in Wroclaw, Poland, four days later.
“I don’t want to see Japan hold back and defend. We will fight with courage,” Zaccheroni said at the start of a training camp in the suburbs of Paris on Monday, according to Japanese media.
Japan, who won a record fourth Asian Cup last year under Zaccheroni, are currently ranked 23rd in the world. France, who won the World Cup at home in 1998, are 13th and five-time holders Brazil 14th.
Asked by reporters if he felt France and Brazil were of a different class, Honda, nursing a bruised right calf, shot back: “I see it the other way around. I don’t see it like others do.”
The 26-year-old World Cup hero, who has been assigned by Zaccheroni to the “hole” behind a single striker, a position preferred by teammate and Manchester United newcomer Shinji Kagawa, refused to say how he would fell the giants.
“I have mentally mapped out the straightforward way I will play against them, but I’d better not say it,” he said. “I want to wait until after the games to ask how everyone felt about our performance.”
Zaccheroni, who took over Japan after South Africa 2010, reaffirmed his goal of turning the Blue Samurai into serious contenders at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“Japan have exceeded Brazil and France in the rate of growth in recent years,” said the 59-year-old, who coached AC Milan and other Serie-A sides before coming to Japan.
“We still have about two years to go before the World Cup and I want to bring us up to stand level (with France and Brazil),” he said.
Zaccheroni has called up 13 Europe-based players for his 23-strong touring squad, also including Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo and Southampton defender Maya Yoshida alongside several German-based players.
In World Cup qualifying, Japan are leading Asian Group B with 10 points from three wins and one draw as they bid for a fifth straight World Cup finals. They will play their next qualifier away to Oman on November 14.
“In Asian games, our opponents mostly hold back and defend,” the coach said, adding that France and Brazil might think Japan would do the same against them.
“We won’t know where we stand in the world now if we don’t fight with courage. I want to see French and Brazilian players have a hard time and be on the defensive.”
Japan have never won in their past five matches against France and eight against Brazil. They drew with France once and with Brazil twice.