Japan wins battle after losing its fight

Some thoughts on the calibre of Japan’s opposition as the World Cup approaches from Keisuke Honda, Alberto Zaccheroni and more. For The Japan News…

The Japan News, Friday 7th March, 2014

A two-goal victory is usually cause for celebration, but Keisuke Honda was far from content with Japan’s triumph over New Zealand this week.

Speaking to The Japan News after the 4-2 win the AC Milan star was, as ever, keen to analyze the negatives of an unusual last match for the Samurai Blue at the current National Stadium.

“We played well first half but after four goals slowed down a little bit,” he said of Wednesday’s game in which Japan raced into a four-goal lead inside 17 minutes, before letting up considerably to concede twice. “We need to improve many things so we are not satisfied.”

The midfielder believes the team relaxed too much having established such a commanding early lead.

“That is the problem so we lost two goals. We have to be smart after we score four goals.”

His coach Alberto Zaccheroni was — outwardly at least — a little more philosophical.

“Of course this sort of thing can happen in a game. You get four early goals and I felt the team’s pace did drop off a bit. But that’s also meaningful for me. When the pace of the team does drop off it’s very good for me to be able to see how the individual players cope with that situation.”

The Italian was, however, very pleased with the manner in which his side burst out of the traps.

“What was especially good about the first 20 minutes was that we were able to play so skillfully at such high speed,” the 60-year-old said. “Because you have to have the skill plus the speed to compete at international level, and I think we were fully at the international level in the first 20 minutes.”

Eyebrows have been raised by the caliber of Japan’s final opponents on home soil ahead of the World Cup finals in June — this match will be followed by a game against lowly Cyprus on May 27th — but Shinji Okazaki isn’t overly concerned.

Japan v. New Zealand, March 5th, 2014

“What we have to do doesn’t change whoever we play against, and I want to go to the World Cup having made the base first,” the Mainz striker, who scored twice against New Zealand, said. “In terms of checking those aspects, playing against Cyprus will be the same as anyone we play against.”

Masato Morishige, who along with Shinji Kagawa also got on the scoresheet Wednesday, is of a similar mind.

“We were playing today’s game as we would against a strong opponent,” the FC Tokyo captain told The Japan News. “I think it’s important to play each game while always being aware of a higher level.”

Maya Yoshida was less enthusiastic about the fixtures.

“That’s how it has been decided so we have no option but to do it,” the Southampton centerback said. “But of course, if we can play against stronger opposition in the US (in a pre-tournament camp) then it’s better, I think.”

Honda isn’t convinced that such mediocre opposition can prepare the team to face Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, or 2004 European champions Greece at the finals either.

“I don’t think so. I can’t imagine how we’ll play against Greece,” he said. “I think [New Zealand are] similar to Greece [and] we conceded two goals. The third goal [would go in] in the World Cup.”

The 27-year-old suggested that more capable opposition would benefit Japan as it makes its final tweaks ahead of the finals in the summer.

“We can play better against the strong teams because we have space,” he explained.

Space is also limited on the plane to Brazil, and while this was the last match before Zaccheroni is expected to announce his squad in early May he insisted there is still time for players to book their seats.

“I want to repeat that I have not decided which 23 players to pick,” he said. “I want players both in Japan and abroad to keep showing me their ability and power.”


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