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Thursday, January 1, 2009
Japan coach talks up potential of his players

Japan coach Takeshi Okada believes that Japanese footballers can be just as good as their counterparts from Europe or South America if they improve their technical ability.

Okada turned a number of heads last month when he set his team the ambitious target of a semi-final spot at the 2010 World Cup.

The 52-year-old believes it to be a realistic goal and in an interview published in the Daily Yomiuri on New Year's Day, he suggested that anything is possible for the Japanese players if they put their minds to it.

"Generally, it's perceived that we don't compare technically with the likes of Ronaldinho, Messi," said Okada, who is in his second spell in charge of the national team.

"But is there some inexplicable reason we can't be as good as them if we really wanted to? What obstacles are there that we Japanese cannot overcome? There aren't any.

"We just don't practice like they do from childhood, and we haven't been around world-class football on an everyday basis, although now we can watch any league in the world, whenever we want.

"Sure, there are certain elements that make us who we are, but it doesn't mean we can't be as good.

"Be it in the corporate sector or the Olympics, Japan has always won with skill. There's no competition we've won on our physical tools alone.

"[Swimmer Kosuke] Kitajima races against guys who are around two metres tall, but he still wins because he has the technique.

"If you go into something with the mindset that you don't stand a chance, then obviously you're not going to get it done."

Okada, who led Japan to the 1998 World Cup, took up the position again in December 2007 after Ivica Osim suffered a stroke.

Looking back on his 12 months in charge, Okada has no real regrets about the job that he has done so far.

"I can pretend to be someone I'm not, but I can't be [Alex] Ferguson and I can't be [Arsene] Wenger. I do the best I can do, and if it's not good enough and people have a problem with that, well, then it's the fault of the president who appointed me, not mine.

"When I accepted, I knew nothing about the team so I decided to stick to what they had been doing, figuring it'd be good enough to get us through the third round. I probably underestimated things a little bit, and all that changed after losing to Bahrain [in the World Cup qualifiers].

"I knew then and there that it wasn't going to be easy, and I had to start doing things my way.

"I'm not going away that easily. If I weren't winning the confidence of anyone then maybe, but I've got a lot of staff and players who believe in what I'm trying to do so I'm not going to throw up my hands and just leave.

"I didn't take this job half-heartedly. I know we can get there."




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