Japan’s coach Takeshi Okada insists that losing to stronger countries is a good thing if it helps steel the Blue Samurai in the run-up to next year’s World Cup in South Africa.
Okada has fixed friendlies against the Netherlands, Ghana, Scotland and Togo in September and October to build up his squad toward his ambitious World Cup target of a semi-final spot.
Of the four countries, only 71st-placed Togo are ranked below Japan, 40th in the FIFA standings. However, the West Africans, who count Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor among their number, are still a formidable force.
“We fight to win but we never avoid fighting strong sides for fear of losing,” Okada told reporters after announcing the international schedule on Wednesday. “If we lose, we lose.”
Japan, former Asian champions, will play world number-three the Netherlands in Enschede on September 5 and 35th-ranked Ghana in Utrecht, on September 9.
“I want my players to feel in their bones the strength of first-ranking teams that have the potential to reach the last four,” Okada said.
“It is a good thing if problems are exposed.”
Like Japan, the Netherlands have already qualified for South Africa 2010 while Ghana lead Africa’s qualifying Group D with three straight wins.
After the Dutch tour, Japan will host Scotland in Yokohama on October 10 and Togo in Oita on October 14, according to the Football Association.
They are also hoping to allocate a FIFA international match day on November 14 for a friendly against a powerhouse such as England or the United States.
“I wish to raise the level of our team by one step through these matches,” said Okada, who piloted Japan to a winless World Cup finals debut at France 1998 and assumed the job again in late 2007 to take over from ailing Bosnian Ivica Osim.
“We must improve the accuracy and speed of our kicking, outrun our opponents and outdo them in one-on-one battles for the ball,” he said.
He has vowed that Japan, who excel in organisation but lack physical strength, can reach the semi-final stage in South Africa, as South Korea did in the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by the two Asian rivals.
The goal has been widely criticised as unrealistic, with Japan’s best World Cup performance being a last-16 spot in 2002.
Okada’s squad showed weaknesses in their offensive tactics last month in qualifying for South Africa, when they went down 2-1 away to the bigger Australia in their final qualifier and in a 1-1 draw with unfancied Qatar at home.
Australia finished top of Asian Group A with 20 points against Japan’s 15 after both countries had secured their places in South Africa.
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