RIO DE JANEIRO – Japan’s 2014 World Cup campaign was undone by a lack of confidence and physical game, as well as a bona fide striker who can take chances, FIFA’s technical committee said on Wednesday.
Japan lost to Cote d’Ivoire and Colombia and drew with Greece on its way out of Brazil in the first round, scoring just twice to end up bottom of Group C. Manager Alberto Zaccheroni resigned, and former Mexico coach Javier Aguirre is said to be the frontrunner to take over.
According to Gerard Houllier of FIFA’s Technical Study Group, Japan never psychologically recovered from its opening 2-1 defeat to Cote d’Ivoire and simply did not have the fitness to keep up in that game.
Through the round of 16, the 20th World Cup is already being touted as arguably the best of all time, marked by tremendous physicality from the teams — something Japan clearly did not possess during its fifth consecutive appearance at the finals.
“The first game killed them because they were 1-0 up and lost 2-1,” Houllier told Kyodo News. “I don’t know how it affected them, but they looked as if they didn’t believe in themselves — as they should’ve done.
“If you look at the game against Ivory Coast, they practically collapsed at the end of the game. They needed to control the tempo because the energy level spent by Japanese players is fantastic.”
The former Liverpool boss’ TSG colleague and ex-Nigeria captain Sunday Oliseh, a self-proclaimed fan of Japanese soccer, added that if the Asian champions want to take their game to the next level, they will need someone who has the finishing touch to complement the creative stroke they’ve shown they have.
“I really like the philosophy the Japanese have put on the ground, how they’ve evolved in the past years,” Oliseh said. “Especially when I saw their under-17s in Abu Dhabi, they were very good.
“They have such a solid under-17 team you’d think it’s Spain, tiki-taka and everything. It’s unbelievable. If they can get a striker — a striker that keeps opponents honest — they can be something.”
Houllier, though, said he does believe Japan will rebound from the failures in Brazil and recapture its form at the next World Cup in Russia.
But apart from developing its physical game, Houllier said Japan will need more players in Europe to stay on top of the latest trends in modern soccer.
“I still think it’s a good nation of football and I felt sorry they couldn’t qualify for the second round,” the Frenchman said.
“But it’s a picture of one competition. OK, they missed out at this World Cup but it doesn’t affect their quality as a team and the quality players they have — or their future. I’m sure they’ll bounce back.
“They can do the same as others, work hard, get better players. But the physical part of the game is such that you have to be really prepared for that.
“I’m not worried about that; I know how the Asian teams work and they are on the right track. They need more players in Europe, though.”
Houllier said he has been amazed by the pace of the teams at the World Cup, and by the number of outstanding strikers at the competition who are not only talented, but boast a high work rate.
He pointed to Chile as a team encompassing all the positive qualities of the tournament, one that managed to build on the standard set by Spain since it won the first of two straight European championships in 2008.
“What’s surprised me at this World Cup is the physical input and commitment of all the teams. You have teams that have come to play the World Cup at their fullest, and the physical tempo and level has been raised,” he said.
“The contribution of Spanish football through Barcelona and the national team, nobody would argue the fact that it has been passed on to a number of teams. If you add that to the tempo, the physicality that has been raised, obviously you have a higher quality and higher level.
“This is my ninth World Cup, but it’s the best one in terms of quality of football and entertainment. Some games are like basketball, like the one between Germany and Ghana and yesterday, USA and Belgium.
“Chile are out of the competition but they seem to sort of summarize practically everything that is needed — an audacious system, technique, good spirit, good energy and a desire to win and do well at this competition.
“Don’t forget they are only out of the competition by penalties.”
Said Oliseh, “With the weather conditions here in Brazil, everybody spoke about teams being economical here, but what we noticed is that teams came well prepared for this.
“It’s been end-to-end stuff but not in the kick-and-follow style. It’s been end-to-end with combinations and movements. When you see the kind of expenditure the Belgians and Americans put on display . . . it was really beautiful to see.”