TOKYO - After flunking their proficiency test in Germany four years ago, Japan's World Cup squad will concentrate on their chemistry studies in South Africa next month.
Rather than recalling the negative elements of that miserable campaign, Japan playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura insists the nightmare 2006 tournament had hardened the resolve of the Blue Samurai, who travel to this year's finals as a rank outsider.
"It really is a group of fighters," Nakamura told Tuesday's Japanese media when asked about coach Takeshi Okada's final 23-man World Cup squad. "That's the difference this time."
Japan's meek exit under Brazilian Zico at the last World Cup was the inevitable conclusion to a tournament marked by internal bickering that left deep scars.
The country's best-known player, Hidetoshi Nakata, quit the game in tears after Japan lost 4-1 to Brazil in their final group match with the team in complete disarray.
Defender Yuji Nakazawa had to be coaxed back from international retirement, but Yokohama team mate Nakamura promised the team dynamic would be better this time.
"Last time, there were a lot of very individual personalities, which causes a lot stress," Nakamura added. "It makes it very hard to stay motivated.
"How you spend your time off the pitch is important. I want to help the team create an atmosphere that takes us into games in the right frame of mind."
Nakamura added: "During meal times or when we're given time to ourselves, it's important to talk about things. When you're on the same page it focuses the body and mind."
Japan face Cameroon, the Netherlands and Denmark in Group E with the odds stacked against them producing a first World Cup finals match win on foreign soil.
Okada's decision to drop J-League player of the year Mitsuo Ogasawara demonstrated he was putting group harmony first.
The former Messina midfielder had been snubbed by Okada amid reports of a bust-up between the two after being recalled for the first time in more than three years in February.
Nakamura, axed in favour of Ogasawara by Frenchman Philippe Troussier in 2002, sympathised.
"This could be my last World Cup," the 31-year-old Nakamura added. "We have to give it everything for the players who've suffered disappointment (by not being selected)."comments