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Iain Macintosh
Friday, Jun 13, 2014

Sports

World Cup 2014: No striker, no glory

The New Paper | Iain Macintosh | Friday, Jun 13, 2014

Fatigue will not be an issue for Shinji Kagawa (above) at the World Cup, after making bit-part appearances for Manchester United this season.

For the second time in succession, Japan will arrive at the World Cup with misgivings and anxieties.

In 2010, a run of just one victory in six games left them, mistakenly in the end, doubting their ability to qualify from their group.

This year, they've won their last three games, and yet still there is concern.

Last month's first warm-up match did little to calm the nerves.

Japan toiled to an unremarkable 1-0 victory against Cyprus on May 27, looking lethargic and blunt throughout.

Right back Atsuto Uchida scored the only goal of the game, scrambling home from close range just before half-time, but there were few other glimpses of quality throughout the encounter.

The drab display follows March's worrying performance against New Zealand, where the Blue Samurai won, but conceded twice and a 3-2 win over Belgium which showcased their attacking potential, while again demonstrating their vulnerabilities.

BIG TASK

Manager Alberto Zaccheroni is under no illusions about the size of his task.

"Obviously there are teams at the World Cup with more quality than us," he said before the clash with Cyprus.

"We must demand that quality to go with the intensity we bring. Intensity alone won't get the job done. Quality and the right mentality are also crucial if we want to beat the top teams."

Efforts to cultivate that intensity have been met with mirth in the West, where pictures of Zaccheroni's curious training methods appeared last week.

Images of players tied to goalposts with bungee cords or pole vaulting from bulbous cushions brought much merriment and they didn't bring a visible improvement against Cyprus.

Japan have never progressed further than the last 16 at a World Cup and, as their 12 goals in 14 matches at the Finals prove, their attacking qualities have always been undermined by the lack of a first-class striker.

This time, that role is likely to fall to Yuya Osako whose January move from Kashima Antlers to Munich 1860 brought six goals in 14 games and the reported interest of newly promoted Bundesliga side Cologne.

Osako, just 24, has quite a responsibility on his slender shoulders. He will receive more than adequate support from one of his teammates, not least because he'll be desperate to find his form again after such a torrid season.

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