Former AC Milan boss Alberto Zaccheroni told the Blue Samurai on Thursday to be brave when they clash with Lionel Messi-led powerhouse Argentina next week in his debut match as Japan coach.
“We should not be afraid of Argentina,” the Italian said as he named a 25-strong squad, featuring nine Europe-based players including CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda, to host the South Americans in Saitama on October 8.
“It is wrong to go out there with an all-defensive frame of mind,” he told reporters. “I aim to build a team skilled in both offensive and defensive. I want to improve their technical aspects and have them play better than ever.”
The squad will also travel to Seoul to play Asian rivals South Korea four days later for Japan’s last match before they head to Qatar for the Asian Cup in January, hoping to regain the title they lost in 2007.
In an apparent move to boost Japan’s feeble firepower, Zaccheroni listed in the forward line-up three midfielders — Honda, new Tom Tomsk signing Daisuke Matsui and Borussia Dortmund’s rookie and goal-scoring machine Shinji Kagawa.
They may join Catania striker Takayuki Morimoto and Shimizu S-Pulse forward Shinji Okazaki up front.
Also included in the squad are two newcomers but key centre-back Yuji Nakazawa of Yokohama Marinos is absent because of a right calf injury.
But another defensive lynchpin, Brazilian-born centre back Marcus Tulio Tanaka, is in.
It is the first time Zaccheroni — who has coached six Serie-A clubs and won the 1998-1999 scudetto with AC Milan — has coached a national side or an overseas club.
With Honda scoring two goals as a lone frontman, Japan reached the knockout stage in South Africa in June for their best ever World Cup. But they lost to Paraguay on penalties in the last-16.
After a two-month search following the World Cup, Japan signed Zaccheroni, 57, on a two-year contract last month with an option of two more years.
“I must cultivate Japanese talent on a long-term basis. I will build a team with sights set on the (2014) World Cup in Brazil,” he said.
The Argentina Football Association has promised to bring Barcelona superstar Messi, despite his recent injury, to the Japan friendly before a sold-out crowd at the 64,000-seat Saitama Stadium in Tokyo’s northern suburbs.
The Japanese Football Association is reportedly due to pay 200,000 dollars more if the Argentina squad included the diminutive player.
The South American team, coached by Sergio Batista, will also feature Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez, Real Madrid forward Gonzalo Higuain and Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano.
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Lierse SK/BEL), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo)
Defenders: Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus), Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama Marinos), Masahiko Inoha (Kashima Antlers), Yuto Nagatomo (Cesena/ITA), Tomoaki Makino (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke/GER)
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Yuki Abe (Leicester City/ENG), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg/GER), Takuya Honda (Shimizu S-Pulse), Hajime Hosogai (Urawa Red Diamonds)
Daisuke Matsui (FK Tom Tomsk/RUS), Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo Iwata), Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (Vegalta Sendai), Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow/RUS), Takayuki Morimoto (Catania/ITA), Mu Kanazaki (Nagoya Grampus), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund/GER)