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Samurai Blue left wanting after win

Japan cruised past Cambodia in their recent World Cup qualifier, although the result and performance still left a lot to be desired…

The Japan News, Friday 4th September, 2015

SAITAMA – After something of a lean spell, Japan got back to winning ways on Thursday night, although there was a slightly underwhelming feel to the 3-0 victory over Cambodia at Saitama Stadium.

The Samurai Blue came into the World Cup qualifier without a win in four games, and the expectation was that Vahid Halilhodzic’s players would emerge from their funk with a scoreline more befitting of baseball than soccer against the team ranked 180th in the world.

While the result was ultimately an upgrade on the 0-0 stalemate with Singapore at the same venue in the side’s last qualifier back in June, Keisuke Honda conceded that he and his teammates still have plenty of room for improvement.

The AC Milan star opened the scoring with a snapshot from 20 meters in the 28th minute, before Maya Yoshida and Shinji Kagawa both found the net in the second half.

Honda’s opener seemed to have been struck more in frustration than expectation, with Japan bossing possession but not creating any clear sights on goal in the opening exchanges – as had been the case at the recent East Asian Cup, which produced two draws and a defeat.

“Honestly, I didn’t think it would go in but thought maybe it could cause something from the second ball,” Honda told reporters after the game.

“We have to increase the number of attempts we make, and that is something that has been an issue for the Japan national team for a long time.”

Shots from long-distance were one of Halilhodzic’s demands ahead of the game, and while he was pleased that both Honda and Yoshida’s goals were struck from range he still wants more from his side.

Indeed, the coach’s histrionics in his technical area were often more exuberant than the fare on the pitch, with the Bosnian regularly expressing irritation at his players’ hesitancy to try their luck from outside the penalty box.

Japan v. Cambodia, Thursday September 3rd, 2015

“I also wanted the two defensive midfielders to shoot more often,” he explained. “I want progress in various areas from this team.”

One scene which provoked particular disbelief from the coach and the 54,716 fans in attendance was an open goal that Kagawa somehow failed to convert in the 42nd minute.

“We need more calmness in front of goal – even Kagawa wasn’t calm today when he needed to be,” Halilhodzic observed. “But this will also improve, I am optimistic.”

Kagawa – who has been in fine form of late for his club Borussia Dortmund, claiming four goals and three assists in five games – held his hands up after the match and conceded that he should have done better.

I was too cautious and stiff,” he said. “That kind of miss isn’t acceptable.”

Thankfully he was able to make up for his lapse by coolly slotting home when another opportunity came his way in the 61st minute.

“I missed a chance that I absolutely should have scored in the first half so I was relieved to score,” he added of his first goal for the national team since he struck in the 2-0 win over Jordan at the Asian Cup on Jan. 20.

While Honda is hopeful he and his teammates can gradually add more to their armory, he was keen to sound a note of caution about attempting to change too much at once.

“Soccer isn’t always about trying new things, and there is a danger that if we start to work at something new then we will lose the ability to do what we are good at,” the 29-year-old said.

“We have to try and keep doing what the players we have now are capable of, while also trying to take more shots from range and so on in order to increase the amount of fear teams feel when they play us.”

The next step in that process comes on Sep. 8, when Japan take on Afghanistan in Iran.


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