National team manager Takeshi Okada insists he did not offer to resign in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s 2-0 defeat to South Korea on Monday night.
Okada said in his post-match news conference that he had sought out Japan Football Association president Motoaki Inukai after the game, and asked if he still wished him to lead the team to next month’s World Cup in South Africa.
But Okada backtracked on his comments on Tuesday, denying that his intentions were to step down less than two days before taking his squad to Switzerland for a pre-tournament training camp.
“I wasn’t speaking in all seriousness and I should have chosen my words more carefully,” he said. “I’ve selected the players and I’m responsible for them, so there’s no way I intend to resign now.”
Midfielder Keisuke Honda, meanwhile, believes it is not too late to turn things around before Japan’s June 14 opening game against Cameroon, but warned his teammates they will get nowhere without talking to each other.
“It was a very bad game for us,” the attacking midfielder said after Monday’s match. “I knew before the game that they were a strong team, but I believe in ourself and I thought that we could get the victory. It’s a bad result and everything was bad for us tonight.
“But we have two weeks more, so we can have a good preparation for the World Cup. We need more communication as a team. We need to talk to each other. I think we need more running. They were running more than us and I think we need better preparation.”
Honda has emerged as a key player for Japan after making an immediate impact in the Champions League following his move to CSKA Moscow from the Netherlands at the start of the year. The step up in quality has taken its toll physically, but the 23-year-old is also reveling in the psychological benefits.
“I am a little bit tired but it has been a good time for me,” he said. “It has given me a little bit of experience, so I think I can give good advice to the team now.
“I don’t know why we played badly tonight but I think we are a little bit tired. We have two weeks more so I think we can get ourselves fit again before the World Cup.”
Honda found a sympathetic ear in South Korean captain Park Ji Sung, who has also made a name for himself in Europe after seven-and-a-half sparkling years at PSV Eindhoven and Manchester United.
“Today I saw him for the first time and I think he’s a good player,” said Park, who opened the scoring with a brilliant strike in the sixth minute. “I heard he showed it on the pitch in the Champions League as well, so he’s an exciting player and hopefully he can show his ability at the World Cup.
“Japan were just unlucky tonight. They missed a few players and then the early goal made it difficult to play. Then they tried to attack and at the end of the game they lost the second goal as well. It was just unlucky to lose today, but if they prepare well it might be that they have a good chance in the World Cup.”
Park is heading to the tournament for a third time after exploding onto the international stage in the Korean team that reached the semifinals under Guus Hiddink in 2002. The 29-year-old has enjoyed unprecedented success since then — becoming the first Asian to play in the Champions League final — and urged the Japanese to follow his example.
“Not many play in Europe, so they need experience to play against Europeans, South Americans, whatever,” he said. “If they play in Asia, they won’t have the experience to play against world-class players. If you play against those kind of teams, then you have more confidence to play. You can show your talent or ability on the pitch.”
Park believes the European experience that Okada does have at his disposal will stand Japan in good stead, however, and is not ruling out progress past the first round.
“They have experienced players like Shunsuke Nakamura and Keisuke Honda that play in Europe and they know how to play,” he said. “They can influence the other players as well, so they have to bring the young players up to feel more confident to play at the World Cup. It might be that the whole team grows up.”