TOKYO - The normally low-key East Asian championship has taken on increasing significance for under-fire Japan coach Takeshi Okada in the build up to this year's World Cup in South Africa.
The four-team tournament kicks off on Saturday with hosts Japan looking for a morale-boosting win in their opening match against China after Okada was roundly criticised for his team's display in a dour 0-0 draw with Venezuela earlier this week.
Japan Football Association (JFA) president Motoaki Inukai snapped "I've got nothing to say about that game" after the Blue Samurai were booed off the pitch in Oita.
Following sumo grand champion Asashoryu's sudden retirement on Thursday, Okada took a thinly veiled dig at the Japanese media on being informed of the wrestler's announcement.
"I guess we all have to be paragons of virtue," he told Friday's Nikkan Sports before his side's clash with China in Tokyo.
"Coaching the team is the only thing on my mind. We're the home side so we are only thinking of winning the title - nothing less."
A first East Asian championship title would help ease pressure on Okada, who found few friends in the media after Japan failed to trouble Venezuela in their opening match of 2010.
Fellow World Cup qualifiers South Korea have won the competition twice and represent the biggest threat to the hosts, with Hong Kong the fourth nation involved.
J-League player of the year Mitsuo Ogasawara said Japan's players lacked vision after his first appearance in more than three years.
"They're not aware of what's around them," the Kashima Antlers midfielder said. "They don't switch sides quickly enough. Everyone's trying to make short passes."
Ogasawara was Japan's best player in a drab encounter with Venezuela but was surprisingly replaced midway through the second half, triggering jeers from the crowd for Okada's decision.
The former Messina player added: "We need to vary our play. I'm hoping to get in and spread the play more and help us get at the opposition more."comments