TOKYO (AP) — Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni says playing against tough opposition has given his team greater confidence as it prepares for a fifth straight World Cup appearance.
Since taking over after the 2010 World Cup, Zaccheroni says one of his main goals was to take Japan out of its comfort zone by playing against some of the world's stronger teams. Over the years, Japan has had a reputation for dominating in Asia but struggling against teams from Europe and South America.
"In the three and a half years since I've been here, I've asked that we play stronger teams away," Zaccheroni said on Monday at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. "In the past the team was a little shy when it had to confront the stronger teams but this isn't the case anymore. The team has more confidence now."
Japan has been drawn in Group C with Ivory Coast, Greece and Colombia for next year's tournament in Brazil. While the Colombians are regarded as the favorite, the group is seen as relatively even.
Losses against Belarus and Serbia in October put the Italian coach under fire but a 3-2 win over Belgium and 2-2 draw with the Netherlands in friendlies last month has eased the pressure.
When asked in Japan's players need to have more of an edge when playing tougher teams, Zaccheroni said he has tried to get the Japanese players to take advantage of their unique strengths.