TOKYO - Rank outsiders to everyone but themselves, Japan should fear no one at this year's World Cup, captain Yuji Nakazawa said.
The Blue Samurai have never won a World Cup game on foreign soil and face an uphill task in South Africa this June against the Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark in Group E.
"All those teams are full of dangerous players at big European clubs," Nakazawa told Reuters. "Basically they will punish you if you make a mistake.
"The forwards are all frightening. We need to be very wary of them. They can pounce late in games if you let your concentration slip.
"We are well aware of the threat but if we go in scared of them we will be in trouble. We have to play with courage and have belief in ourselves."
Nakazawa retired briefly from the international set-up following Japan's meek exit from the 2006 World Cup in Germany before being coaxed back into the Japan fold.
"I feel a lot calmer this time," said the shaggy-haired 32-year-old Yokohama defender, who has made over 100 appearances for his country.
"I don't think I feel the stress across my shoulders I did last time. I'm more relaxed about it," added Nakazawa, dapper in Japan's official "007"-style World Cup suit and spectacles.
"I had no idea what the World Cup was all about in 2006. It was my first time. I didn't know what preparation was needed or the mentality to approach the tournament.
"This time I have the experience so my motivation and conditioning can be as near perfect as possible."
Japan's preparations for South Africa were dented by a 3-0 defeat by fellow World Cup qualifiers Serbia earlier this month and Nakazawa admitted the team deserved criticism.
"We made too many mistakes," he said. "They hit us on the counter and we were never able to get onto the front foot. That's given us a number of things to think about for the World Cup.
"We just have to take the result and the criticism on the chin and move on. We have to react quicker and improve. Unless we learn from it the same thing will happen (at the World Cup)."
Nakazawa identified Japan's opening game in South Africa against Cameroon's Indomitable Lions on June 14 as vital for the team to have any chance of progressing.
"We must get a result," said Nakazawa, who will expect a busy evening trying to keep striker Samuel Eto'o under wraps in Bloemfontein.
"If we can do that we can go on a roll and advance in the tournament."
Japan coach Takeshi Okada has targeted a semi-final finish despite a lack of evidence to back up his claims the team have the potential to reach the knockout stages.
"Obviously we can't keep losing 3-0," said Nakazawa. "That won't help our development at all."