TOKYO (January 29): It's the start of another marathon football year, and Japan's opening opponents at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday night are Kazakhstan.
The big, rugged and experienced Kazakhs may cause a few problems for Zico's men, as they could be hard to break down.
But while a victory would be welcome to boost confidence, Zico will be looking for a smooth performance as much as a big scoreline.
For Japan, there's no need to rush things, as this is going to be a busy year.
There is no point in players over-extending themselves in their first game of the season and picking up an injury in the winter cold. This could produce problems further down the road, for example against North Korea in the Group B opener on February 9.
As Zico explained Friday night after the official training session, he will try and use as many players as possible during the 90 minutes to give them match fitness.
Miyamoto, of course, is out already with a right hamstring injury, but he said he may be okay for the Syria friendly at Saitama next Wednesday.
In the meantime, Matsuda takes over in the centre of defence, and Matsuda's Marinos team-mate, Nakazawa, will be captain on his home ground.
This is a fitting reward for Nakazawa. It is no secret that he is one of my favourite players, and is a fantastic ambassador for Japanese football.
I asked "Kaiser Tsune" about the appointment of Nakazawa as captain, and he replied: "I agree with it.
"His personality is very good and he's a strong man. It's a good choice."
With Koji Nakata in Marseille to complete the formalities of his transfer from Kashima, Endo has come into the centre of midfield alongside Fukunishi.
The team has been functioning smoothly in training, and Zico will be looking for more of the same in the match against Kazakhstan.
I hope the fans are patient, and not demanding a barrage of goals against opposition who will certainly know what they are doing. No team from the old Soviet Union shoud be under-estimated.
This match is just one step toward the big one, against North Korea.