Soccer: Japan arrive in Australia ahead of Asian Cup

January 4, 2015 6:39 am 

By Gus Fielding

SYDNEY, Jan. 3 (PNA/Kyodo) — Greeted by a throng of local media and a smattering of fans, Japan arrived in Sydney on Saturday ahead of their defense of the Asian Cup.

AC Milan's bleach-blond midfielder Keisuke Honda, wearing his trademark sunglasses, signed autographs as he came through the arrivals gate at Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport after a nine-and-a-half-hour flight from Tokyo.

Television crews chased coach Javier Aguirre for a comment as the squad headed towards a bus waiting to take them to their base camp at Cessnock in the Hunter Region of New South Wales.

Japan, seeking a record fifth Asian Cup, were to hold their first training session in Cessnock later in the day and have a training match lined up against New Zealand's Auckland City on Sunday.

The Blue Samurai kick off their Group D campaign against Palestine in Newcastle on Jan. 12.

They then face 2007 Asian champions Iraq in Brisbane on Jan. 16 and wrap up the group phase against Jordan four days later in Melbourne.

Aguirre, embroiled in a match-fixing scandal in Spain, did not speak to reporters upon his arrival in Sydney and had no comment as the team wrapped up their five-day camp in Chiba Prefecture before departing for Australia on Friday.

Captain Makoto Hasebe, however, predicted a tough test for Japan against fast-improving teams in Asia.

"I think the level of Asian soccer is improving. The players that have played in World Cup qualifiers feel that," said Hasebe. "Teams like Uzbekistan, Qatar and Bahrain, Jordan too. Those teams from the Middle East are getting better and it will not be easy to beat them."

"The days of beating Uzbekistan 5-0 are over. Each game is going to be very tough. We know it will be difficult but we have to have hunger to win the championship," he added.

The Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder also said he hoped Japan could rebound from their first-round elimination at the World Cup last summer by winning the Asian Cup.(PNA/Kyodo)

LAM/SSC

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