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Setback makes Boys in Blue feel sick

by James Mulligan

BONN — Japan ‘keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi said he was “sickened” by the manner of the Boys in Blues’ 3-1 defeat at the hands of Australia on Monday in Kaiserslautern.

Kawaguchi looked a dead certain for man-of-the-match after pulling off a string of brilliant saves as Japan protected its 1-0 lead courtesy of a hotly contested 26th minute goal by Shunsuke Nakamura.

But a moment of madness by Kawaguchi let in substitute Tim Cahill for Australia’s equalizer on 84 minutes, and the Aussies scored twice more for a stunning victory in the Group F opener.

“Sure, I made a lot of saves, but at the end of the day we conceded three goals so obviously it’s sickening,” said the Jubilo Iwata ‘keeper.

But Kawaguchi refused to write off Japan’s chances of advancing to the second round, even though the Boys in Blue need at least four points out of tough games against Croatia and Brazil if they are to go through.

“Obviously everybody in the dressing room is down, which is normal after a defeat. But we just have to change our mind-set and focus on the next game,” Kawaguchi said. “We have got five days to refresh and must put this result behind us. The tournament has only just started and we will still be in with a shout if we beat Croatia.”

Captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto agreed with Kawaguchi, calling for the players to “stay positive and look forward to the next match.”

Manager Zico blasted his “wasteful” players after the match against Australia and made it clear that he wants to see goals galore in the make-or-break game against Croatia on June 14 in Nuremberg.

“We wasted the chances that could have ended the game for Japan,” Zico said. “In football if you don’t score, sooner or later you will let in goals. We didn’t score so we lost the game.

“It all comes down to the Croatia game — we have to win. But we also need to deal with the goal difference, too. We are now in a difficult situation. The third goal was hard on us.”

Zico admitted that his players struggled to cope with the physical threat presented by the Australian forwards, not least Mark Viduka, who gave central Miyamoto and Yuji Nakazawa a torrid time.

It raises concerns that Japan’s defenders may struggle against an equally imposing Croatian frontline spearheaded by Glasgow Rangers battering ram Dado Prso.

“Australia had some strong players and they made a difference. It’s also very difficult to neutralize long-ball tactics,” Zico said. “It doesn’t matter how hard you train. If you have three strikers all who are six feet tall, then it’s difficult for Japan.”