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Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012

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Paris match: Yasuyuki Konno tries to get clear of France's Mathieu Debuchy during Japan's 1-0 friendly win at the Stade de France on Friday. AFP-JIJI

Honda fit and ready for Brazil friendly test


WROCLAW, Poland — Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda is ready to roll against Brazil after the CSKA Moscow man finally took part in full-blown training on Sunday.

Honda remained rooted to the bench in Friday's 1-0 victory over France, nursing a bruised right calf that he picked up while playing for CSKA just before the international week.

But Honda, arguably coach Alberto Zaccheroni's most trusted and tried player, and who has served as the focal point of the Japanese attack, trained with the team during a closed session upon arriving in Poland for Tuesday's friendly versus the five-time World Cup winner.

"We couldn't have had a worse first half," Honda said. "The result was too good to be true."

"Our performance was just acceptable, nothing more. I was watching and I thought we were intimidated by them in the first half. If all we want to do is reach the quarterfinals at the next World Cup, then yesterday's game will do.

"But this Japan team, we're capable of a lot more."

While Japan recorded its first-ever win over Les Bleus through a very late goal by Shinji Kagawa, the Asian champions could surely use Honda against Brazil, after failing to click for large phases of the game.

Had it not been for goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima's man-of-the-match caliber performance, there was a chance Japan could have been embarrassed by France — just like 11 years ago when it was humbled 5-0 at the Stade de France under Philippe Troussier.

Japan was without Honda as well as first-choice attacking players Ryoichi Maeda and Shinji Okazaki, and had to cope with an out-of-shape captain Makoto Hasebe, whose lack of playing time for his club (zero appearances this season for Wolfsburg) must be a growing concern for Zaccheroni.

But the consensus among the team is that Japan still should have performed better.

"What we have been saying amongst us players is that we should have seen way more time on the ball," Manchester United playmaker Kagawa said. "We're capable of doing more from a technical, tactical standpoint.

"We should have shown what we can do right from the first half. When you stop to think about it, we didn't accomplish a great deal on the pitch apart from the result."

Japan has never beaten Brazil in eight previous meetings, and the most recent one did not end well. The Brazilians at that time hammered Zico's Japan 4-1 in the last group game of the 2006 World Cup.

"I think you have to look at how far we've come as a team," said Zaccheroni, who took over for Takeshi Okada after the 2010 World Cup and led Japan to a record fourth continental title in January 2011.

"We haven't had too many games where we didn't score so I think we're improving on that front. And we also don't concede that often, either. We've become a very balanced team.

"Up until now, most of our matches were against Asian sides. But the purpose of this trip is to see how we stack up against the world's best teams and we will play another one on Tuesday."

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