Japan’s defence of the East Asian Cup was brought to an end on Wednesday, as they drew 1-1 with South Korea…
WUHAN, China – Japan’s chances of winning the East Asian Cup were extinguished after its 1-1 draw with South Korea on Wednesday, and Vahid Halilhodzic and his players were forced to defend themselves against claims that the team had played negatively against the Taeguk Warriors.
The Samurai Blue needed a win to keep alive its hopes of defending the title it won in Seoul in 2013, but barely threatened on a balmy night in Wuhan and had to settle for a draw, earned after Hotaru Yamaguchi’s fine drive cancelled out Jang Hyun Soo’s opener from the penalty spot.
“It’s a big step forward for Korea, because it means a lot of respect to our team if a team is waiting for us, and this is what Japan did today,” South Korea coach Uli Stielike said after the match.
“Japan was watching us, was analyzing us, and the defensive compartment of Japan was totally different to their last game [against North Korea],” he added.
Halilhodzic insisted the aim had always been to take the three points, however, and rather than entering into a war of words with his opposite number opted to instead praise the opposition.
“Of course I didn’t give the instructions to not go forward,” the Bosnian said. “Our job today was to first block Korea and then counterattack but Korea broke up our attacks very well.
“In this match we were defensively solid and physically better than in the last match. Offensively we still lack some power and that’s why we struggled to create chances, although I’m not surprised because we played against the best team in this tournament and so should be happy with the draw.”
Tomoaki Makino was also keen to stress the quality of the opposition.
“From studying their first match [against China] it was clear that they are a very slick team, and so we came into the game knowing that first of all we had to start defensively and then work on showing our ability while cancelling out their strong points,” the Urawa Reds defender said of the South Koreans, who can seal the title if they defeat North Korea on Sunday.
“Calling [our way of playing] ‘defensive’ is maybe a bit of an odd way of putting it,” the 28-year-old continued.
“We took care today to make three ‘blocks’ while the opponent had the ball, with the intention of keeping compact and barring their way to goal – especially because they had one player with height up front.”
Takashi Usami started on the bench before being brought on for Shinzo Koroki in the 78th minute, but even the introduction of the J.League’s leading scorer couldn’t tilt the game in Japan’s favor.
“I don’t think you could say that we controlled the game, but at the same time you couldn’t say that they did either,” the Gamba Osaka striker said postmatch.
“There were times during the opening exchanges when the opposition was pushing forward and putting us under pressure, and watching from the side there weren’t many occasions where we could work ourselves into shooting positions, but we didn’t head into the game with the aim of playing defensively.”
For Makino, who is seemingly gaining the trust of Halilhodzic having started each of the last four games under the 63-year-old, the overriding feeling was of a job well done after a hard-fought battle.
“We have to acknowledge the quality of the opponent,” he said.
“When they had the ball we fitted into the style of soaking up the pressure and then trying to make short counters. They got their goal from a penalty kick and we scored ours from open play and I think it was a really good game. It didn’t feel to me like it was always them attacking us.”
Japan’s last game in the four team round-robin competition comes on Sunday night as it takes on host China, while South Korea faces neighbor North Korea.