ZHODZINA, BELARUS – Japan will head home empty-handed from its Eastern Europe tour as the Asian champions went down meekly 1-0 at the hands of Belarus on Tuesday.
Yan Tigorev’s strike just before halftime sent Belarus past Alberto Zaccheroni’s side, which lost yet again to a team that failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
Japan lost 2-0 to Serbia four days ago.
Zaccheroni, sure to come under increasing pressure at home with another lackluster performance, insisted the experience of playing abroad will help his team grow for Brazil next summer.
Next month, Japan plays away at the Netherlands and likely Belgium, two early favorites to make the World Cup, who could demolish the Blue Samurai at this rate.
“It’s very disappointing,” Zaccheroni said. “We created the chances early on but didn’t take them, and they capitalized on the first opportunity they had — just like in the Serbia game.
“We’re a different team when we play away compared to how we are at home. But I believe if we stick to the plan and keep playing overseas, that will change.
“Still, we need to examine why there’s such a difference home and away,” he said.
Captain Makoto Hasebe added, “We lost two in a row and we have to look at ourselves in the mirror because we were actually trying to win today, but didn’t.”
Japan failed to turn it up for the game, despite needing a performance to put Friday’s defeat to Serbia behind it.
In the 13th minute, Yoichiro Kakitani robbed the Belarus defense but was foiled by the keeper, and Atsuto Uchida followed by slashing into the box, only to fire wide right.
Japan went quiet from that point on, and Sergei Kislyak called Eiji Kawashima into action during the dying minutes of the half with a homing free kick from 25 meters out, the Standard Liege custodian just keeping the effort out.
But in the 45th minute, the hosts broke through as Tigorev bashed a ball from Timofei Kalachev from outside the box, leaving Kawashima with no chance of making a save.
The second half did not bring about much change for Japan, apart from the formation as Zaccheroni went to a 3-4-3 with the substitution of Kakitani for defender Masato Morishige.
Maya Yoshida missed a soft header from close range in the 64th minute, which turned out to be the last decent chance for the visitors, who lacked in all parts of the pitch on the afternoon.
“We never created any big chances,” Japan centurion Yasuhito Endo said. “We’ve got to be a bit more creative and adjust during games.
“I think we’ve shown we can control possession, but we have to figure out how to make better use of it.”
Metsu passes away
Bruno Metsu, a Frenchman who coached Senegal to its remarkable run to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, has died. He was 59.
His death was announced by the French club Lille, for whom Metsu played from 1979-81 and coached in 1992-93. No cause was given, but media reports said he died early Tuesday following a long battle with cancer.
In 2002, Senegal beat defending champion France 1-0 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. The West African team, in what remains its only appearance at the tournament, went on to defeat Sweden to reach the quarterfinals before losing to Turkey, becoming only the second African team to reach the last eight at the World Cup.
Reflecting the great affection the Senegalese had for Metsu, the country’s president, Macky Sall, said the Frenchman with his unmistakable long, wavy hair helped write “the most beautiful pages” so far in Senegal soccer history.
Senegal striker Souleymane Camara told L’Equipe: “More than a coach, he was a big brother for us. What I liked about him was that when we had to work, we worked, when it was time to have a laugh, we laughed.”