As manager of South Korea's national team, Kim In Sik has gone to great lengths to play down his team's success against Japan.
"I don't know if we are really as good as our record," Kim said on Saturday of South Korea's 5-1 record against Japan in their last six games in the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics.
"But we've gotten those results because our players have performed well in those games. Still, you can't say that we are the better team, because a few games aren't the whole story."
But Kim, whose squad opens its WBC campaign against Taiwan at Tokyo Dome on Friday, said his nation's results were evidence of improvement.
"For a long time, Korea was used to getting pushed around by Japan," Kim said. "But in the past eight years, Korea has beaten Japan a lot.
"I think the quality of Korean baseball has improved. We have no fear against Japan. Their team is very strong, but we still can't ignore Taiwan and China."
Since the WBC has switched from a round-robin format to double elimination, a side's only certain opponent is in its first game. This makes it hard to set up pitching assignments against particular opponents.
"This tournament is too complicated," Kim said. "It gives me a headache. My strategy will be to save my best pitcher for the last game."
In 2006, the Koreans beat Japan twice with a pitching staff loaded with major leaguers, something that won't be the case this time.
The only major leaguer on the roster is Cleveland Indians outfielder Choo Shin Soo, who was asked if he could make up for the absence of talismanic first baseman Lee Seung Yeop.
"This is a team game," Choo said. "I'm not the only one out there. We all have to play together for the team--that's the way Lee played and why he made the team better.
"We each have our jobs to do. If I strikeout, I believe my teammates will support me. Together, we'll make it to the United States."
Choo, playing for the national team for the first time in eight years, has liked what he's seen so far.
"[As the only major leaguer], there is a little pressure, but we've got some great players," he said. "I was surprised and impressed by how much power this team has."
Lefty Kim Kwang Hyun, who beat Japan in the Beijing Olympic semifinals, and defeated the Chunichi Dragons at Tokyo Dome in the 2007 Asia Series, has not lost to Japan since he was an amateur in 2005.
"I simply don't like to lose," the 20-year-old SK Wyverns ace said when he was asked about his success against Japan.
"In this tournament we have a pitch limit, so I will have to be very good and efficient.
"Honestly, I don't think I'm as good a pitcher as the Japanese media makes me out to be, but I appreciate that."
Manager Kim said he was able to watch Japan's final warmup game, Sunday's 2-1, 10-inning victory over the Yomiuri Giants.
"One game is not enough to make up my mind about Japan," he said.
"Ichiro [Suzuki] and [Norichika] Aoki are great players but they didn't get on base. Because of that, Japan struggled to score."
South Korea, which beat the Saitama Seibu Lions 4-2 in a Monday warmup game, may be without Tokyo Yakult Swallows closer Lim Chang Yong, who suffered a contusion in practice.
In the day's other exhibition game, the Yomiuri Giants beat Taiwan 7-6.