Japan will defy the odds and the sceptics and produce a miracle by maybe going further than even the quarterfinals at the World Cup finals, their talismanic AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda boldly predicted on Monday.
While Honda sounded a note of defiance France coach Didier Deschamps and his players flew out to Brazil on Monday with the 1998 World Cup winning captain warning his players against falling into the trap of becoming over confident on the back of an 8-0 thrashing of Jamaica in their final friendly.
As Honda and the French squad looked forward to their respective campaigns the World Cup hopes of another two players, Ecuador’s Segundo Castillo and Colombia’s Aldo Ramirez, were dashed as they failed to win their respective battles to be fit.
Honda, of whom much will be expected by the Japanese public, was unequivocal about his expectations for the ‘Blue Samurai’ starting with them repeating their achievement from the 2010 finals in South Africa and progressing from their group.
The Japanese, who have failed to impress in their warm-up games against Cyprus, fellow finals-bound Costa Rica and former African champions Zambia, have a relatively weak group having been drawn in Group C against Colombia, who will be missing their star striker Radamel Falcao, goal-shy Greece and talented but ageing Ivory Coast.
They open their campaign against the African country on June 14.
Sporting a spiky mohawk haircut, the bleached-blond Honda touched down in Brazil with the Japan squad at the weekend.
“Firstly, we can 100 percent get through our group,” Honda told Japan’s Nikkan Sports daily.
“After that anything can happen at a World Cup. We’re good enough now to reach the quarterfinals.
“Obviously we all need to stay fit but if we do the basics right 100 percent, no mistakes, we can get to the quarterfinals. From there we can make miracles happen.”
Their best World Cup performances to date were reaching the last 16 as co-hosts with South Korea in 2002 and again four years ago in South Africa.
But Honda, who scored twice in Japan’s 4-3 win over Zambia in Florida on Friday, remained defiant.
“Do you believe in miracles or do you make them happen?” asked the 27-year-old. “If we only believe in miracles and that basis disappears, it will be difficult to get through our group.”
Deschamps, who took over from Laurent Blanc at the helm after Euro 2012 and steered the French to a finals spot through a play-off win over Ukraine, said the victory over Jamaica was terrific for morale but sounded a note of caution as well.
“It was a very good evening in terms of giving a huge boost to the players confidence, but without, I hope, breeding over-confidence,” said the 46-year-old.
For the French players the manner of the victory was as important for recoverting from the bodyblow of losing one of their few world class players on Friday when Franck Ribery withdrew from the squad because of a back injury.
While Ribery described it as like a ‘death in my soul’, midfielder Blaise Matuidi, who along with Karim Benzema scored a double in the romp over Jamaica, said the past was the past.
“Ribery is a loss, but we have to stop talking about it and get on without him,” said the Paris St Germain star.
Benzema for his part gave French fans an encouraging sign that things would not descend into the farce of four years ago when the squad in South Africa went on strike over the sending home of Nicolas Anelka and returned in disgrace themselves after the first round.
“A victory was what we needed before leaving. It gives us confidence,” said the Real Madrid striker.
“Everyone is happy. We showed a lot of good things.”