KOBE — Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has warned his players not to expect a walkover on Friday when the Blue Samurai take on minnow Vietnam in Kobe in a warmup for next week’s 2014 World Cup qualifier against Tajikistan.
The last time Japan met Vietnam it ran out a comfortable 4-1 winner in Hanoi at the 2007 Asian Cup, and with the Asian champion virtually at full strength, home fans are likely to be expecting another resounding victory at Home’s Stadium.
“Vietnam have speed, agility and endurance as a team and are solid as a unit both in defense and attack. It won’t be that easy,” said Zaccheroni.
“We can focus on raising the level of our game against Vietnam, before going into the second game against Tajikistan, where we need to deliver a result,” said the Italian. “If we can concentrate on the things we need to work on in the first game, it will help us in our second game.”
Japan Football Association technical director Hiromi Hara, meanwhile, described Vietnam as an “emerging Asian nation,” pointing out that it upset Qatar 2-1 at home in the second round of World Cup qualifiers, going out 4-2 over two legs.
Japan, level on four points in third-round qualifying Group C with Uzbekistan after two games played, meets Tajikistan in Osaka on Oct. 11. The Tajiks lost both of their first two qualifiers 1-0 to Uzbekistan and North Korea, respectively.
Zaccheroni will be without star midfielder Keisuke Honda, who is recovering from knee surgery, but Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo is back in the fold after recovering from a dislocated right shoulder.
All eyes in the upcoming games are likely to be on Nagatomo, who is set to make his first appearance in a national team shirt since the 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic in a friendly in June, and out-of-sorts Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa.
Both players have been suffering from indifferent form of late, with Kagawa being kept on the bench in Dortmund’s 4-0 win over Augsburg at the weekend.
Kagawa, who is reportedly being chased by Liverpool, had a quiet game when Japan drew 1-1 away to Uzbekistan in its last World Cup qualifier on Sept. 6, and the 22-year-old is hoping to turn things around and return to Germany with renewed confidence.
“I was supposed to be carrying the team (against North Korea and Uzbekistan) but could not fulfil my role,” said Kagawa. “I am struggling a bit with Dortmund at the moment but I want to keep a positive frame of mind and try and take my game up an extra level.
“I want to focus on these two matches with the national team, try and get something going. I want to gain something to take back with me (to Germany).”
Vietnam’s German coach Falko Goetz, meanwhile, said he was looking forward to testing his players against Japan.
“Japan have momentum and their presence in world football is growing,” said Goetz. “We played good games against Macao (in the first round of World Cup qualifiers) and Qatar. I am looking forward to seeing how our players will do against Japan.”
Demichelis hurts head
BUENOS AIRES — Argentina defender Martin Demichelis sustained a head injury Wednesday when he collided in practice with teammate Marco Rojo.
Demichelis of Spanish club Malaga was initially treated at Argentina’s training camp on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where he remained on the field and was fitted with a neck brace. He eventually walked under his own power to a waiting ambulance.
By GUS FIELDING