Japan have had things all their own way for the past year or so, but were served a reminder of their deficiencies against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday night…
SUITA, Osaka — Tomoaki Makino believes Japan’s 2-1 Kirin Cup loss to Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday night was just the tonic to prepare the Samurai Blue for the final round of World Cup qualifiers, which get under way in September.
Vahid Halilhodzic’s side cruised through the second round of qualification for Russia 2018, topping its group without conceding a goal, and just four days before the reverse against Bosnia it chalked up a baseball-like score by downing Bulgaria 7-2.
Despite taking the lead through Hiroshi Kiyotake’s 28th-minute strike, however, Japan didn’t have things all its own way in Osaka, and a Milan Duric brace dealt Halilhodzic his first home defeat as Japan boss.
Urawa Reds defender Makino wasn’t despondent after the loss though, and thinks that conversely it will help the team in the long run.
“Today, although it didn’t produce a positive result, I think the team gained something big from the game,” he said.
“We were able to experience things we don’t often get. From now on we have to display the mentality to show resilience and bounce back. [In the final round of qualifiers] we have games against Australia, teams from the Middle East, and difficult away trips, so we have to have that mental resilience.”
Makino started the game on the bench, replacing Yuto Nagatomo for the final 20 minutes, and felt that gave him an extra sense of perspective on proceedings — particularly considering with whom he was viewing the game.
“Watching with [Keisuke] Honda and [Shinji] Kagawa, we were talking about the best way to defend against this kind of team,” the 29-year-old said of the Bosnian side with an average height of 187 centimeters.
“Of course, when it comes to playing against physical and tall opponents, there is no point trying to match them. Instead you need to try and take up better positions and anticipate things.”
Makino’s fellow defender Masato Morishige agreed.
“They had power and it wasn’t for us to try and counter that with power,” the FC Tokyo centerback said.
“Playing to suit the opponent’s style is what they hope for, so we have to think about exhibiting our own strong points. Of course there will be times in the game when the opponent is controlling the flow, and at that time we have to be able to stand strong.”
For Kagawa — who didn’t make it off the bench for this game but did score twice in the rout over Bulgaria in the previous match — the expectation is not for Japan to merely go toe-to-toe with the better teams it faces, but that it comes out on top.
“We have to win against this kind of opponent,” the Borussia Dortmund star said. “When the game became a little congested, I feel we lacked a clear idea of what we needed to do to get that second goal. It’s the same issue we always have: we aren’t able to change the rhythm when the game stalled, and then conceded on the counter.”
Honda was unable to play any part in either the Bulgaria or Bosnia games on account of a knee injury, but has no doubt about which of the recent friendly results are more beneficial for Japan.
“Absolutely the Bosnia game,” the AC Milan midfielder said. “When you lose, it brings with it a sense of danger, which the players now have to pay attention to. Now we have to start looking ahead.
“Speaking frankly, everyone thought we would beat Bosnia, including me. But soccer is not as simple as that. There are many things in the air and during the game they change, meaning the line between victory and defeat is paper thin.”