Iraq coach Zico is bracing himself for an emotional return to Japan for his side's World Cup qualifier in Saitama on Tuesday but is confident the 2007 Asian champions are capable of upsetting the hosts.
The former playmaker, who coached Japan from 2002-06, said there would be no room for sentiment, however, and his team would tear into the home side right from kick-off (1030 GMT).
"Japan has been a big part of my life and always will be," Zico told local media on Monday. "It will be emotional. If I had the choice, I wouldn't be in the same group.
"That's football. It's an emotional and passionate sport but I have prepared my team to beat Japan. That is what being a professional is."
The Blue Samurai lead World Cup qualifying Group B by five points from Tuesday's opponents, Australia and Jordan.
Japan overpowered Oman 3-0 and Jordan 6-0 at home before being held 1-1 in Australia in June in their first three games in the final round of Asian 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
"Obviously Japan are a very technically gifted team, especially players who control the midfield like (Makoto) Hasebe and (Yasuhito) Endo," Zico told the Nikkan Sports newspaper.
"You can't give players like Hasebe and Endo space to get their heads up," the 59-year-old added. "You have to be pressing them all the time."
Japan, currently coached by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, captured a record fourth Asian Cup last year, while war-torn Iraq pulled off a stunning triumph at the previous tournament in 2007.
"Japan are the best team in the group. Zaccheroni has them playing a very attacking style," said Zico, who led Japan to victory at the Asian Cup in 2004.
Zico picked out several Japan players who could expect special attention, including Endo and Shinji Kagawa.
"Kagawa is an extraordinary, world-class player," purred Zico on the subject of Manchester United's pre-season signing.
"He's a team player but he can finish too. He plays with his head. We'll be extra cautious of him.
"Endo makes Japan tick. The ball always ends up at his feet, like a magnet."
However, Zico warned Japan to expect a scrap after watching them struggle to beat the United Arab Emirates 1-0 in a warm-up last week.
"I am confident of getting a result," he said. "Mental toughness will be the key."
Please login to add to favorites
Already added to favorites
Added as Favorite