Soccer

Concerns of Brazil protesters sadden Japan team

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BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP)

Japan's footballers are leaving Brazil disappointed by their early exit from the Confederations Cup, and saddened by the extent of public anger towards the government.

Ahead of Japan's final match against Mexico, coach Alberto Zaccheroni urged Brazil's government to listen to demonstrators demanding an end to corruption and better investment in public services.

''I am very sorry and my whole team is very sorry to see that there is a lot of tension at the moment because this means there is dissatisfaction on behalf of the people, and this is not good for society, for social life, for sport, or for anything really,'' Zaccheroni said through a translator.

''So I hope that decision makers can intervene in the right way so as to be able to obtain collaboration and restore the balance - to make sure that the situation in Brazil can improve.''

Saturday's game is in Belo Horizonte - one of many cities to witness anti-government protests in the last week.

''Brazilian people are loved all over the world and I am personally discovering beautiful places during this tournament,'' Zaccheroni said. ''I do hope that the situation gets better very soon.''

In the northeastern city of Salvador, where protests have turned more violent than in Belo Horizonte, the Italy squad has avoided leaving its hotel.

But the Japanese feel safe in the streets of Belo Horizonte, which is north of Rio de Janeiro.

''We are very well protected,'' Japan midfielder Yasuhito Endo said through a translator. ''I do not feel or sense it is dangerous going outside and the members of the Japanese team have gone out for a walk without any problems and we have not felt any danger at all.''

The Japanese have played in Brasilia, where they lost to Brazil on Saturday, and Recife, where they went down 4-3 to Italy in Group A.

Losing to Italy after leading 2-0 left a ''bitter taste'' in the coach's mouth.

''In order to get closer to the level of the so-called strong teams, big teams, we need to learn to win in the same way that Italy did with us,'' Zaccheroni said. ''They suffered our initiative for over 70 minutes, but they didn't give up and they were able - at the right time - through their experience, to seize their chance ... these qualities you can only acquire through high-level play.

''And that's why this tournament is great experience for us.''

Before traveling to Brazil for the eight-nation warm-up tournament for the 2014 World Cup, Japan became the first team to qualify for next year's showpiece event.

The concern for Zaccheroni, a former Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus coach, is the lack of time he will have with his team before the World Cup.

And he's trying to manage expectations.

''It's not possible for us in just one year to get to level of Italy, Spain, Brazil etcetera but we want to reduce the gap as much as possible and that's why are trying to accumulate useful experience.

''We have seen as regard playing ability we are nearly there. Now we need to add experience.''

And tactical flexibility.

''Clearly for the rest of the year we are going to have to experiment with other formations in order to be less predictable,'' Zaccheroni said. ''And especially for when we can't play as fast.''



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