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05/06/2013

Zaccheroni “delighted” with Japan’s World Cup qualification

 Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni looked happy and relieved after the Samurai Blue secured their berth in the 2014 FIFA World Cup with a 1-1 draw against Australia on Tuesday night in an Asian final-round qualifier at Saitama Stadium.
 Honda Keisuke of CSKA Moscow scored a penalty in the first minute of additional time, cancelling out Tommy Oar’s 81st-minute goal.
 “Honestly speaking, I am delighted,” said Zaccheroni. “But I feel like I’ve aged 10 years.”
 The draw, coupled with Iraq’s 1-0 loss at Oman later in the day, means that no other team in Group B can catch Japan, who have one more match remaining. Japan have 14 points, seven more than their nearest rivals.
 Japan will make their fifth straight World Cup appearance at next year’s finals in Brazil.
 “Before the game, I told our players to prove their ability and show we are number one on the pitch,” Zaccheroni said. “Our performance was very good. Our players played with a strong heart, trying hard to take control of the game and win.
 “It was not easy, but we were able to do that against Australia who are a top-level team in Asia with high international experience and strong physiques.
 “After we conceded the goal, our team didn’t give up and pressured our opponents with our supporters urging us on. That resulted in the penalty.
 “Our players did very well and I want to thank our supporters for their back-up.”
 The Italian coach addressed his appreciation to the fans in the post-match ceremony by saying, “Ouen Arigato Gozaimashita” (Thank you for supporting us) in Japanese, which brought big applause from the fans.
 The 60-year-old former Serie A coach was then mobbed by his players on the pitch and given a celebratory water shower.
 “We still have one more qualifying match [against Iraq in Doha on June 11] before going to the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil,” Zaccheroni pointed out. “We will continue playing hard in that qualifier, and want to work on our ideal game and what we have to fix to improve.”
 Australia coach Holger Osieck said, “First of all, I’d like to congratulate the Japanese team for their qualification for Brazil.
 “But I’d like to congratulate my team as well on a very good performance. I think we played a very good game today. We had very good tactical discipline, defended well as a unit, we attacked well and were very quick on counter attacks.
 “You cannot control the Japanese team over 90 minutes. They have too much quality and too much pace. Overall we did very well to hold them back, and our tactical discipline in defense was excellent today.”
 The German coach also said, “When you collect a point like this against the number one team in the group, it is a very good achievement.
 “When you are very close to winning such a difficult game and you concede a late goal, of course you are disappointed. But I told my players to keep their heads up and they shouldn’t question themselves a lot.”
 Honda commented: “It is a shame that we didn’t win, but we still decided our qualification, which is good. I talked with Kagawa about how we should make individual efforts to head for goal.”
 Asked about taking the penalty, Honda replied: “I felt nervous.”
 Japan captain Hasebe Makoto said, “I am grateful to our supporters. We struggled a bit as we couldn’t win our last two matches, but our supporters created a wonderful atmosphere.”
 Kagawa Shinji said, “I should be capable of scoring in a game like today’s. I want to improve my game over the coming year before the finals.”
 Nagatomo Yuto commented, “I am happy but shouldn’t be content. We are serious about aiming to win the World Cup and this can be just a passing point. We should develop our game more.”