PRETORIA - Japan are on the brink of
reaching the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time
although coach Takeshi Okada is worried it could all come
crashing down like a ton of bricks.
The Japanese face Paraguay in Pretoria on Tuesday in the
second round and, while no Asian team has recorded a victory
over a South American opponent at a World Cup, Japan have built
up a head of steam and are flying.
Cautious Okada, however, warned against complacency in the
Japan camp and said it was important to build on their success
in South Africa rather than resting on their laurels.
"If you pile up bricks only vertically they will fall at
some point," Okada told a news conference on Monday.
"I don't want to make a judgment based on only one result or
one competition, we need to have a longer-term vision in order
to evaluate the real level of Japanese football."
Japan sealed second spot in Group E with a convincing 3-1
win over Denmark, and Okada said progressing to the next stage
would be a boost for Japan and good for Asian football in general.
"South Korea, unfortunately, lost to Uruguay (in the second
round) but I think they played wonderfully," he added. "As the
only remaining Asian team at this level we really would like to
get to the last eight.
"For Japan's football community it would be bright,
wonderful news. It would be one step closer to their goal of
becoming one of the world's top teams if we get to the last
Paraguay had not captured the world's imagination in terms
of stylish football but their quality could not be ignored, said
"Perhaps Paraguay are not one of the most attractive teams,
but fundamentally they are strong," he added.
"In the group phase they finished first ahead of some very
good teams. Many of their players are in European leagues and up
front in particular they are very quick."
Japan's success in South Africa is in stark contrast to
their pre-World Cup struggles. Okada had offered to resign just
over a month ago after his side were beaten 2-0 by South Korea
in a friendly in Saitama.
Frequently bashed by Japanese media in the run-up to the
World Cup, Okada's stock rose dramatically after first round
victories over Cameroon and Denmark but he was sceptical that it
would stay that way.
"I don't read all that stuff. I'm not aware of what the
press is saying about my reputation," he added. "It fluctuates
and changes and it will do so again in the future. I don't care,
I will just go my own way."
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