Takeshi Okada says he'll become a farmer after the World Cup, but just hours before Japan's second round showdown with Paraguay, the quietly-spoken coach shows no sign of pulling up roots.
Okada is confident that his side can make history and reach the final eight of a World Cup for the first time, taking one step closer to fulfilling his pre-tournament prediction that Japan are good enough to reach the semi-finals in South Africa.
Few were left doubting that premise after Japan's 3-1 drubbing of Denmark in their final group game, in a match in which both Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo mastered the erratic Jabulani ball to crash home spectacular free-kicks.
Japanese players have long been renowned for their exceptional technique, but it's the hard-running and incisive vision of CSKA Moscow midfielder Honda that has caught the eye, with a host of European clubs now putting the creative talent at the top of their shopping list.
Honda had hardly featured for the Samurai Blue in the build-up to the World Cup finals, but he has quickly transformed into a team leader in the absence of an out-of-sorts Shunsuke Nakamura.
Such is Honda's exceptional form up front that Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki now looks likely to spend the rest of the tournament starting from the bench, despite the fact that the powerful front man was the most prolific international striker in 2009.
Okazaki is not the only player to have fallen foul of Okada's axe, with Schalke-bound defender Atsuto Uchida another left out in the cold during the chilly South African winter, as veteran Yuichi Komano is preferred on the right-hand side of defence.
Komano is a part of a back four rippling with experience, and many critics believe that towering stoppers Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Yuji Nakazawa have been arguably the stand-out central defensive partnership in this year's tournament.
The pair will need to display all their renowned fighting spirit to keep an impressive looking Paraguay attack at bay, and if Manchester City star Roque Santa Cruz isn't a formidable enough opponent, the South Americans also have Borussia Dortmund strikers Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios to call upon.
Like their opponents, Paraguay have never reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup, so history will be made come the full-time whistle at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria.
Takeshi Okada won't want to be reaching for the plough just yet, and he is confident that his side can conjure another unexpected victory, as Japan's enigmatic coach looks to continue his surprising renaissance at the helm of the national team.
Copyright © Mike Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com
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