Japan set semifinal as Cup target: coach Okada

TOKYO - Japan's coach Takeshi Okada says his players share his ambitious goal of a semifinal spot in this year's World Cup.

"I am surprised myself," he told reporters when asked if the number of his players, who are "seriously" aiming for a top-four finish in South Africa, had risen.

"The players have ups and downs and they can flinch when they hit the wall .

"But I have a feeling that the number was just a few this time last year and has since exceeded 10 and then 15," he said. His target has been snubbed as unrealistic because Japan have not won a World Cup match on foreign soil since Okada guided them to their finals debut.

They came home after three straight losses at the group stage. Securing just one point at the group stage in South Africa is widely seen as a tall order for Japan, who are pitted against the Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark - all of them ranked above the three-time Asian champions.

Japan's best World Cup result was a last-round spot in the 2002 tournament, which they co-hosted with South Korea, who finished fourth. At Germany 2006, Japan bowed out after losing to Brazil and Australia and drawing with Croatia.

Okada, 53, said a tour of the Netherlands last September had boosted the skills of his "Blue Samurais", even though they eventually lost 3-0. They battled from behind to beat Ghana 4-3.

Striker Keisuke Honda said Japan needed to improve in three areas to advance on the world stage: "To outrun our opponents. To outdo them in one-on-one battles for the ball. To raise accuracy, especially kicks," he said. - AFP