June 28, 2008: Philippe Troussier once outlined the qualities needed to be a successful coach.
His list included the usual things about tactics, strategy and man-management, but ended with the following.
"Above all," Troussier concluded, "a coach must be lucky."
Looking at the draw for the final Asian qualifying round for the 2010 World Cup, Takeshi Okada certainly had luck on his side in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.
It's not so much who Japan drew that stands out, but who they avoided -- Iran, Saudi Arabia and the two Koreas, as well as UAE.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are strong and experienced teams, and know what it takes to get to the World Cup, while any matches against South or North Korea are accompanied by so much political and historical baggage that it makes it difficult to actually focus on the football. These are not normal matches, and the odds are stacked against Japan psychologically.
And while the Emirates are no great shakes ('sheikhs' perhaps?), they are coached by Bruno Metsu, who enjoys something of a mythical status when it comes to the World Cup.
So, all in all, Japan have come out of this draw pretty well.
They have the top seeds, Australia, plus Bahrain (again and again), Uzbekistan (bring back Kazu!) and Qatar, described as "cosmopolitan" in one article I read recently, referring to their generous immigration policy.
The two matches against Pim Verbeek's Australia will be the most eagerly awaited by Japan, due to their growing rivalry, but it's going to be the away games against the others that hold the key to Japan's hopes.
In the third qualifying round they lost tamely in Bahrain and drew in Oman thanks to a penalty scored by Endo and a penalty saved by Narazaki.
They only beat Thailand away, and, let's face it, the Thais wouldn't be good enough to win J2.
So Japan's away form must improve significantly in the final round. They must keep the points ticking over in these away games, otherwise they will put themselves under too much pressure to win at home.
They can't afford to take the field with the same listless, pedestrian approach they showed in Manama in March, and hope to hang on for a draw or scramble a win.
They have got to take the initiative and be positive, and play like a team that has played in the last three World Cups and wants to go to a fourth.
The other teams will fear Japan because of their recent record in World Cup qualifying and because of the talent available to Okada, so Japan must live up to this reputation and dominate games, especially away from home.
I firmly believe Japan can finish in the top two and qualify for South Africa.
If they finish third in this weaker group, their chances of beating the third-place team from the other group would be low indeed.