Japan Olympic men’s soccer team manager Takashi Sekizuka has warned his players their stay in London will be short-lived unless they show more imagination than they did in Wednesday’s 1-1 final home warmup draw with New Zealand.
Japan looked to be heading to the 2012 Summer Games on a high after taking a 71st-minute lead through Kenyu Sugimoto at National Stadium, only for Dakota Lucas to snatch an unlikely draw for the All Whites with virtually the last kick of the game.
But New Zealand coped with much of Japan’s pressure despite the home side dominating possession, and Sekizuka believes his side will not escape a first-round group containing Spain, Morocco and Honduras unless his players mix things up and become less predictable.
“Our movement was very good at the start of the game, but after about 20 minutes the opposition got used to it and that made it very difficult to score,” he said.
“Our goal came from a shot down the middle that took everyone by surprise. But then we made a mistake to give them an equalizer, and if we do that at the Olympics, we won’t win. . .”
Defender Maya Yoshida, one of two overage players along with Yuhei Tokunaga on Sekizuka’s Under-23 squad, agreed with his manager’s assessment but refused to dwell on the result.
“We started well, but our passing became a bit monotonous and New Zealand learned how to deal with it,” said the full national team regular, who missed Wednesday’s game through injury.
Japan’s passing game found a fan in New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen, however, with the new Queens Park Rangers signing tipping Sekizuka’s side to impress at the July 26-Aug. 11 tournament.
“I think they’re an extremely strong side,” said Nelsen, who led the full New Zealand team at the 2010 World Cup.
“They’re always good at Under-23 level and they produce technical players, very dynamic, very creative. I always say there’s not much difference in quality between their Under-23 team and their senior team. I think they’ll do extremely well.”
Japan’s women’s team fared better in Wednesday’s double-header, beating Australia 3-0 earlier in the day thanks to goals from captain Aya Miyama, Yuki Ogimi and Homare Sawa.
Sawa is preparing to take part in her fourth Olympics in what could be her international farewell, but after missing games earlier this year due to vertigo, manager Norio Sasaki is pleased to have the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year returning to form.
“I really feel that Sawa is regaining her match fitness,” said Sasaki, whose team plays Canada, Sweden and South Africa in the first round. “It was very important for her to score, both for herself and for the whole team.”
Beaten Australia manager Tom Sermanni believes Nadeshiko Japan will be difficult to stop at the Olympics, pointing to the team spirit forged during last year’s Women’s World Cup victory in Germany.
“I think their biggest strength is the unbelievable confidence they play with,” he said.