Javier Aguirre’s future as Japan boss is still up in the air, but his demeanour has relaxed in the past few days… (日本語版はこちらです)
He seemed in control and at ease as he took his seat. He even shared a laugh with his questioners and exchanged pleasantries with one Spanish-speaking journalist once the formalities had been concluded.
There had been all manner of controversy swirling around Javier Aguirre ahead of the Asian Cup, and many believed that he should be relieved of his duties on account of the distracting influence the match-fixing allegations leveled against him would have on the team.
The Mexican was as relaxed as he had been in a while in the pre-match press conference ahead of the Samurai Blue’s decisive Group D clash with Jordan, though, and it was as if a cloud had been lifted.
Two wins from two games would surely have provided some satisfaction – although Palestine and Iraq hadn’t exactly provided the sternest of opposition. Perhaps, as some rumours suggest, behind the scenes a decision has been made regarding his future as Japan boss. Whether that is positive or negative for Aguirre, if he has been told what his status will be once the tournament is over at least he can focus on the task at hand. It’s always better to have clarity, after all.
If he is to be removed of his duties then he will want to go out on a high – preferably with the Asian Cup in hand – and if he has been told his job is safe then he will now be able to concentrate his full attention on the preparations for further down the line.
Either way, he carried on where he left off against Jordan – not only picking up a third straight win, but doing so with exactly the same starting eleven as in the opening two matches. I asked captain Makoto Hasebe after the game if he thought that consistency had had a calming effect on the team, and while he felt there were positives, the Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder stressed the importance of a full squad as the tournament heats up.
“That’s something that the manager decides,” he said. “With regards to starting with the same players, there are good aspects. However, in this kind of competition – and it was the same last time – it’s going to turn into a full on battle. Today, for example, Muto came on and claimed an assist, so there’s a feeling that we are going to have to enter that fight as a whole team.”
Maya Yoshida agreed.
“[We’re] getting better every match and [are able] to understand each other day by day,” the Southampton defender said. “But now [is just] half way of the tournament, so maybe from now the substitutes have to be ready for some chance or opportunity to play. Maybe something happens, injury or suspension, so we need everyone, all of the 23 players and all the technical staff and medical staff as well.”
Keisuke Honda also believes that a settled starting line-up breeds understanding out on the pitch, although he anticipates things getting a little tougher from here on in.
“We know each other,” the AC Milan playmaker said. “But I don’t think we can use this confidence against UAE because I know they are playing well. I don’t think they are afraid of us. We shouldn’t think we will make many chances against them.
“I’m happy but we have to change the mind now we are going to the knockout tournament. That is a special atmosphere – not like the last three games.”
Unlike his teammates Honda doesn’t foresee Aguirre deviating from his preferred eleven just yet, though.
“No, I don’t think so. I think we are playing the same team [against the UAE].”
If it ain’t broke then don’t try to fix it, as they say. It will be interesting to see if the JFA abide by that maxim if Japan do go all the way in Australia.