RECIFE, BRAZIL – Shinji Kagawa and his Japan teammates feel like they’ve been bitten hard by reality — the reality that they’ve made little progress from four years ago in South Africa.
“I’ve been preparing for this and if this is the result, this says a lot about me,” Kagawa said Saturday, after Alberto Zaccheroni’s side lost 2-1 to Cote d’Ivoire. “It really stings that we’re having to look back on our first game in this way.”
“We obviously weren’t aggressive enough, just like we weren’t against Brazil at the Confederations Cup last year. We scored the first goal but I don’t think for one moment we were in control of the game.
“I can’t begin to describe how I feel. But we’ve got two more games and we’re not giving up. We don’t want it to end this way. (Greece) will come at us in the next game because they need three points just like we do. We’ve got no choice but to attack.”
The knock on Takeshi Okada’s team, which advanced to the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup, was that it was too defensive.
The Japan Football Association brought in Zaccheroni with hopes of galvanizing the attack. In the four years the Italian has been in charge, it appeared Japan might finally be able to dictate the game on the World Cup stage.
But after the Asian champions’ first game in Brazil, many Japanese players said they reverted to old ways. Japan were outshot 20-7 by Cote d’Ivoire, and owned just 43 percent of ball possession.
Japan faces Greece on Thursday in Natal. Greece also lost earlier Saturday, 3-0 to Group C seed Colombia.
“We can’t afford to lose any more so we should practice our attacking,” said Yoshito Okubo, a veteran of Japan’s last World Cup team who came on in the 67th minute for an ineffective Yuya Osako. “We were no good in the second half and we were doing the same things from four years ago.
“As a team, I didn’t think what we were doing was right. We were behind anyway so you might as well go for it. We were trying to defend too much, just like four years ago.
“We started going long at the end but that’s not our style. Our feet stopped moving. People talk about how rough the climate is here, but it was a lot hotter in the (United) States.”
What’s his impression of the Ivorians?
“Ivory Coast were good, but they were better four years ago,” he said, referring to the 2-0 defeat to the Ivorians in a friendly just before the previous World Cup.
“It’s such a waste. If they go up 2-1, they were going to start to sit back so I wanted to get in when it was still 1-1.
“We were confused about the positioning. We couldn’t hear what the manager was saying; (Shinji) Okazaki was moving to the left when he should have been on the right. We were panicking.”
Captain Makoto Hasebe, who came off in the 54th minute as he continues to recover from a knee ligament injury, said the current Japanese side is not designed to close out slim leads and needs to get back to the go-go style that got it to the World Cup in the first place.
“We’re not a team that wins 1-0; that’s not the way we’re built,” he said. “We’ve got to keep going for goals and to do that, we needed to create more today.
“There was a lot to be desired.”