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Soccer-Japan hope to be Brazil fan favourite in Ivory Coast opener

Reuters

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By Philip O'Connor

RECIFE, Brazil, June 13 (Reuters) - Japan are hoping for strong support from Brazilian fans when they take on Ivory Coast in their opening World Cup Group C game in Recife's Pernambuco arena on Saturday.

The team won the hearts of many Brazilians at the 2013 Confederations Cup with their attacking football, especially in a 4-3 defeat to Italy.

"At the Confederations Cup we received wonderful support form the Brazilians and also from the Japanese," team captain Masoko Hasebe told a news conference on the eve of the match.

Japan's Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni said that he too had felt the love of Brazilian soccer fans for his team, saying: "Already when we arrived at the hotel there was a wonderful atmosphere."

The team lost all three of their games at the Confederations Cup but Zaccheroni said they had matured since then.

"I'm a man of beliefs and the team has grown, the team has developed. Since then, an additional ten months have elapsed, we have acquired additional experience. I'm keen to see how much we've developed."

Despite several contentious decisions in the opening matches, Zaccheroni dismissed concerns over the officiating, saying that "the best referees" were in charge.

At the helm of Japan since 2010, the 61-year-old said had a good idea which players would start against the Ivorians.

"In principle I've already made my decision, but because we have 24 hours to go I'm going to reflect on it further," he told reporters. "We are talking about a very important match, I don't want to be too hasty in making my decision."

Japan's other two opponents in Group C are Greece and Colombia. (Editing by Nigel Hunt)

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