On Friday I travelled up to Sapporo to see Javier Aguirre’s first game in charge of Japan. The Samurai Blue were fairly comfortably beaten 2-0 by Uruguay, and after the game I gathered some reaction from those involved…
SAPPORO – The hope was that a new manager and squad littered with fresh-faced, eager debutants would revitalize Japan after a dismal World Cup showing.
Change can take time to adjust to though, and the Samurai Blue’s 2-0 defeat to Uruguay on Friday night was a disjointed and largely uninspiring one.
Almost a third of Javier Aguirre’s first squad were uncapped heading into the Mexican’s first match, and with recent stalwarts such as Yasuhito Endo, Makoto Hasebe and Shinji Kagawa all either injured or overlooked the new look team was comfortably swept aside by a seasoned Uruguayan outfit.
“We just trained for two days and Uruguay has been together for a long time,” centerback Maya Yoshida reasoned after the match. “That’s a huge experience difference. We just started a new page of the team so we need a little bit more time.”
Keisuke Honda, who captained the side in the absence of the injured Hasebe, made a similar point.
“We have to understand each other more, we didn’t show our ability yet,” the AC Milan forward said. “We are not mature yet. That’s obvious because we are a new team. But we have to show our individual ability more.”
Another requirement will be to eliminate the rookie errors that gifted Edinson Cavani and Abel Hernandez with a goal in each half at Sapporo Dome.
“You can’t afford to do that against teams like Uruguay,” Aguirre said in his post-match press conference. “The difference was their experience and our mistakes, but we have Venezuela next so we have to look ahead to that.”
As well as the players needing to get used to each other, Yoshida also suggested that the coaching staff are yet to fully stamp their authority on the team.
“I think they need the time as well – to adjust to Japanese culture, Japanese football, to living in Japan,” the 26-year-old said.
“To be fair, Uruguay is one of the best teams in the world. But we didn’t let them make too many opportunities, we just made mistakes.”
Aguirre was also careful to point out the caliber of opposition his side were facing – even without the legendary-if-aging Diego Forlan and controversial-yet-lethal Luis Suarez.
“It’s not easy to play a team like Uruguay after just a few training sessions,” the former Espanyol coach said. “Our team is young and four players made their debuts today. It wasn’t the result I wanted but there were some aspects I was satisfied with.”
One of those will surely be the performance of one of the aforementioned debutants, Yusuke Minagawa, who along with defender Tatsuya Sakai started the match (Yoshinori Muto and Ryota Morioka both made substitute appearances).
The 22-year-old only made his J.League debut for Sanfrecce Hiroshima on July 19th but three goals in eight games have seen him fast-tracked into the national team.
“I’m paying close attention to the process I’m going through,” the striker told reporters after the game. “When you’re not on the pitch, for example, how you work on honing your skills and achieving positive results. I think continuing to work on those things has led me to where I am now, so I realize there are actually people who have been watching me in those areas too.”
The Tokyo native insisted he didn’t experience any nerves ahead of his first start, and instead gave the impression of being a player very much at home at this level.
“I had the feeling of, ‘finally I can be on this stage’, and, ‘I’m definitely going to do this’,” he said when asked how he felt to pull on the blue jersey for the first time.
He was given an instant lesson in the harsh realities of international football though, missing a presentable headed chance in the first half that would have given Japan the lead.
“I wanted to score and the fact that I didn’t hurt the team so I felt responsibility for that.”