Belfast Telegraph

Japan 'building for future'

Japan manager Takeshi Okada admits it would be "wonderful" news for the sport back home if his side can reach the World Cup quarter-finals, but insists that must be just another step towards a more long-term goal.

The Blue Samurai have the chance to reach the last eight of the World Cup for the first time in their history later today when they take on Paraguay in Pretoria.

Okada knows victory over the South Americans would be a boost but hopes it is not the limit of what can be achieved.

"I would say for the football community it will be wonderful and encouraging news," said the 53-year-old.

"What the Japanese football community is aiming at, which is to become one of the top teams, will be one step closer if we qualify for the final eight.

"But I have to say if you only pile bricks vertically they will eventually fall down, so we have to support from both sides.

"I personally don't want to base everything on just one result or just one competition. We need to have a longer-term vision, to estimate and evaluate the level of Japanese football.

"We need to be aware of the journey and the path which is still ongoing."

He added: "This competition is a very good way to measure the level of a national team.

"This World Cup, for the fact we've been able to get this far, it is not only a credit for myself and my players, but also for the footballing community of Japan as a whole.

"I think objectively we can say with certainty that the overall level of the Japan players now is much higher than in the past.

"As for how far we can go, we keep challenging and keep going forward - that's all."

Japan have only once before reached the knockout stages when, on home soil in 2002, they were eliminated at the second-round stage by Turkey.

Four years ago in Germany they failed to get beyond the group stages after finishing bottom of a pool that included Brazil, Croatia and Australia.

Paraguay have done better than that, and this is the third time in the last four World Cups they have reached the last 16.

However, like Japan, they have not managed to go any further and they too will be hoping to claim their place in national folklore by getting to the quarter-finals for the first time.

Midfielder Cristian Riveros said of the prospect of making history: "I guess we're cool, we're at ease. The important thing is to get to the quarters.

"But we must go bit by bit and if we want to go any further we have to go through the various steps.

"If we make it we will certainly go down in Paraguay's history, so we would like to take another step forward, and then another after that."

Belfast Telegraph


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