Japan failed to pick up its first win under Javier Aguirre on Tuesday night, but Yoshinori Muto’s performance meant neither the new coach or Muto’s teammates were too downbeat post-game…
YOKOHAMA — Keisuke Honda has lavished praise on Yoshinori Muto, claiming that the young striker brings a hitherto lacking dimension to the Samurai Blue setup.
Muto struck his first national team goal just six minutes after coming on as a halftime substitute in the 2-2 draw with Venezuela in Yokohama on Tuesday night, and his captain was thoroughly impressed with what he saw.
“He has good speed, he looks fresh and [brings] a new style,” Honda told reporters after the match. “We didn’t have his kind [of striker] ever in the Japanese national team. I agree [that he’s not a typical Japanese striker], so I like him.”
Shinji Okazaki, the third-highest scorer in Japan’s history with 39 goals, concurred that the FC Tokyo forward adds something much-needed to the side.
“Recently, more and more players like that have been appearing, and it’s great to have players who are confident in making the decision to try to score by themselves,” the 28-year-old said.
“He plays soccer with all his power and that’s why the shot went in,” continued Okazaki, who plays for German team Mainz in the Bundesliga. “He knew that he had a chance to impress and really wanted to score. He showed his specialty, I think. He scores many goals like that in the J.League and it means a lot for him that he was able to do the same for the national team.”
Muto’s goal came after he picked up a half-cleared ball just inside the Venezuelan half, surged purposefully toward goal and dispatched crisply with his left foot from just outside the penalty area. It was exactly the kind of opportunity he had envisaged as he studied the game from the substitutes’ bench in the first half.
“The passes were going long, but we weren’t really able to create much when receiving the ball in the center, so I thought it would be good if I could try to spark attacks from the middle,” the 22-year-old explained.
“I thought that the first defender was going to try to foul me, and that if I could avoid going down, then it would turn into a chance.
“Perhaps the goalkeeper wasn’t sure if I was going to pass or shoot, and so I just went for it. I knew that I had to get a goal any way I could, and the fact I was able to do so will give me confidence from now on.”
Such proactive play will have delighted his coach, Javier Aguirre, with the new man in charge stressing that he wants his players to think for themselves once they get on the field.
“I’ve only had a short week working with the players, and while I’m the one who gives them the directions, I want them to play more freely,” the Mexican said in his postgame press conference.
“I do not make the decisions for the players when they are on the field. Depending on how the game is going, they must make the decisions themselves.”
While there were positives to take from the game, Aguirre did hint at slight frustration at the defensive lapses that — as in the 2-0 loss to Uruguay last Friday — cost his side two goals.
“I’m satisfied with the performances of the young players over these two games,” he said. “In the future, I hope we will have a little more luck and that the opponents won’t score each time we make a mistake.”
The first error against Venezuela was made by Hiroki Mizumoto in the 57th minute. The Sanfrecce Hiroshima defender surrendered possession in the middle of the park then had to chase Alejandro Guerra half the length of the field before he ended up fouling him to concede a penalty. Fourteen minutes later goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was the culprit, allowing a long-range effort by Gabriel Cichero to slip through his hands and into the net.
Aguirre will now have to wait until next month’s friendlies against Jamaica in Niigata and Brazil in Singapore to try to register his first win as Japan boss.
While Honda expressed disappointment that neither of the 55-year-old coach’s opening games had ended in victory, he preached patience.
“Of course, I’m not satisfied, but this is soccer and we are just beginning a new project because we have a new coach and new players, so I don’t say negative things,” the AC Milan player said. “It’s all right because we know we have some good players, new talent, and I think that we can improve more.”