RECIFE, BRAZIL – Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni hit back at suggestions he has failed to condition his team properly for the World Cup, but the Italian tactician says he is ready for “self analysis” after the Asian champions surrendered a first-half lead and crashed to a 2-1 defeat to Cote d’Ivoire in their opening World Cup game on Saturday night.
Keisuke Honda struck a fabulous opener on 16 minutes and Atsuto Uchida nearly doubled the lead five minutes later, but that was pretty much the only clear-cut chances the Samurai Blue managed to create in the rest of the match played in intermittent showers in Recife.
With a handful of players including Honda and Shinji Kagawa fading badly in the second half, the Ivorians struck twice through Wilfried Bony and Gervinho in the space of a few minutes after coach Sabri Lamouchi made an inspired substitution with the introduction of iconic striker Didier Drogba.
Honda had a disappointing season at AC Milan and Kagawa suffered from a lack of playing time at Manchester United. Both have been trying to regain fitness, as has regular captain Makoto Hasebe, who was taken off after 54 minutes despite looking fairly comfortable.
But Zaccheroni said, “We know what we need to do normally because every time we have done it we have achieved excellent results. We knew full well what we needed to do but this evening the fact is that above and beyond the excellent quality of our opponents, we failed to play our part.
“When my team is not able to do what it should have done, I analyze myself so now I am going to ask myself what I should have done. I normally think of my performance first and then analyze the performance of my players to make the most of the upcoming matches.”
“I expected a different performance tonight and I want to analyze what I did and speak with the players tomorrow, and the day after that I will know if it is an issue of maturity or something else,” he continued.
“I have been working with this team for four years and I know that they can do better because they have played better than the way they performed tonight many times before.”
Zaccheroni also defended his decision to throw on Yasuhito Endo for Hasebe, who has only recently returned from knee surgery and did not play in the two World Cup warmups against Costa Rica and Zambia at the team’s pre-tournament training camp in Florida.
“I had already planned on that substitution at the beginning of the match. I tried to get the most intensity from Hasebe and Endo and reduce the minutes of playing time for them,” he said.
“Hasebe hasn’t played that much until today and I thought that if I gave him 30-35 minutes I would be able to get the best out of him. It’s not about Endo and Hasebe individually. The whole team was too stretched to attack as we should have done.”
Defender Maya Yoshida said there was no room for excuses and that the focus must now shift to the team’s remaining group games against Greece and Colombia.
“I have no intention of making excuses and all we have to think about is winning the next two games. We didn’t move well and weren’t able to play our style of soccer,” Yoshida told Kyodo News.
“After we scored we let them take the game to us. I don’t know if it was the weather or the pressure that made us feel heavy but it is the same for all teams. We are not as bad as this and we are not going to let it (the World Cup) finish here.”