'Hara's Heroes' hint at 'Zac Japan' to come


Japan National Team

In the end, interim Japan coach Hiromi Hara's greatest concern was whether it might be too hot to wear a tie on the touchline.

The former Urawa Reds and FC Tokyo coach and current Japan Football Association technical director ultimately opted for a snappy grey number, and he had every reason to be relaxed going into Japan's Kirin Cup clash with Paraguay at a sold-out Nissan Stadium in Yokohama.

Hara took charge on a caretaker basis for the two-match series against Paraguay and Guatemala, however Alberto Zaccheroni was the real star of the show after it was revealed late last month that he would take over as Japan's new coach.

Visa constraints forced Zaccheroni to watch the clash with Paraguay from high in the stands along with 65,157 fans on a hot evening in the famous port city, and the Italian will have been delighted with what he saw as a goal from Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired Japan to an entertaining 1-0 victory.

The match was a rematch of Japan's heartbreaking Round of 16 penalty shoot-out defeat to Paraguay at the recent World Cup, and Samurai Blue fans must be wondering why Kagawa did not travel to South Africa after he turned in a virtuoso display in midfield.

The 21-year-old scored the only goal of the game following an incisive pass from playmaker Kengo Nakamura, who threaded an inch-perfect ball into the path of the on-rushing Kagawa, and he took one touch before firing an unerring finish beyond Justo Villar in the Paraguayan goal.

Alberto Zaccheroni

The slightly-built ex-Cerezo Osaka star wasn't the only Japanese player in good form, as Lierse SK goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima pulled off a series of impressive saves to deny the powerful Paraguay attack.

The display left Zaccheroni beaming as Japan's fluid one-touch football thrilled the capacity crowd on hand, although the ease with which Paraguay ploughed through a porous back four will nevertheless give the much-travelled tactician some cause for concern.

Japan's next Kirin Cup clash is against Central American minnows Guatemala at Nagai Stadium in Osaka on Tuesday night, and with the feel-good factor having returned to Japanese football following their surprise showing in South Africa, officials can expect another big crowd to turn out for the affable Hara's second and final match in charge.

Hara's Heroes hint at Zac Japan to come.

Copyright © Mike Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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