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Soccer-Zaccheroni steps down after Japan World Cup exit

Reuters

* Italian quits after group stage exit

* Zaccheroni takes full responsibility (Adds details, quotes)

June 25 (Reuters) - Alberto Zaccheroni stepped down as Japan coach on Wednesday after taking full responsibility for the Asian champions' group stage exit at the World Cup.

Japan's dismal World Cup campaign ended with a 4-1 defeat by Colombia on Tuesday as they finished bottom of Group C with only one point after an opening loss to Ivory Coast and 0-0 draw with 10-man Greece.

"I really wanted to take us forward and qualify for the second round and I am so disappointed. But I picked the team, decided on the tactics and how we play and I want to take full responsibility," the Italian was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

"Everyone got together at lunch today and I offered my thanks to all the people that have supported the team. I would select exactly the same players and staff if I had another chance."

The 61-year-old Italian led Japan to a record fourth Asian Cup in 2011 shortly after taking over but his ability to bridge the gap to the world's elite was always his main goal.

An early victory over Argentina and a 16 match unbeaten start to his reign offered hope but three defeats at last year's Confederations Cup and only one point in Brazil was not good enough.

Zaccheroni, who had wanted to lead Japan to a first World Cup quarter-final, said his team had lacked physical strength, but added the team was well set to retain the Asian Cup in January.

"I think the culture of Japanese soccer and the special characteristics and technique of the players can cut it on the world stage but physical strength is what is lacking," he said.

"I have tried to create a team with speed and intensity and don't think the direction I tried to take the team was the wrong one.

"I think the team should continue on the same path it has been on for the last four years." (Writing by Patrick Johnston, Editing by Nigel Hunt)

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