SAITAMA — Japan and Colombia played out a dour 0-0 draw on Tuesday in the last home match for Ivica Osim’s men before the Asian Cup finals, leaving the national team coach with even more questions than answers ahead of the July 7-29 tournament.

News photoJapan midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura battles Colombia defender Javier Arizala during the first half of
their Kirin Cup match on Tuesday at Saitama Stadium 2002. The match ended in scoreless draw.

Japan may have won some silverware — even if it was only the Kirin Cup — by virtue of having scored one goal more than Colombia in the sides’ games against Montenegro, but with the likes of playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura woefully out of sorts and the Europe-based players Junichi Inamoto and Koji Nakata anonymous there is a lot for Osim to ponder.

Striker Naohiro Takahara said the Japanese should improve before they play Qatar on July 9 in Hanoi and aim for their third consecutive Asian Cup title.

“Although it’s too bad we didn’t win, it’s not like we lost,” said Takahara. “I believe that from now on we will play better and better.”

Kengo Nakamura wasted the best chance midway through the second half after an excellent four-man move set him free on the right, but there was precious little else to entertain a disappointing crowd of 45, 091 at Saitama Stadium, although the last 15 minutes offered a glimmer of hope as Japan pushed for the victory with a little more vigor than it displayed in the agonizingly dull first 75.

“I thought at the end we played well,” said Osim. “Had we been able to capitalize on the chances that we had, we might have scored. Colombia is a strong team and so I am happy with the players that we tried.”

Like much of what Japan attempted in an uninspiring first half, the game’s first chance — a Kengo Nakamura daisy cutter from the edge of the area after a one-two with Inamoto — lacked conviction and ‘keeper Agustin Julio easily pawed the ball away.

It was a pretty dismal sum total of chances for the hosts in the first 45 minutes. The Nakamuras, Shunsuke and Kengo, and Keita Suzuki were not helping by their lack of zip in midfield. Edixon Perea nearly punished a ponderous Shunsuke early on with a shot from close range that whizzed past the post after the Celtic midfielder had been robbed on the edge of the area.

Nakamura, supposedly recovered from an ankle injury, had a handy excuse for his lackluster performance: “Today I would say that I ran more for my other teammates. I am beginning to get a better sense of the way we play as a team and from now on I would like to be able to make more of an impact on the way we play.”

Nakamura wasn’t the only one utterly out of sorts.

Defender Yuji Nakazawa was clearing the ball into Row Z in desperation as early as the 20th minute with no apparent danger lurking, and the entire home defense was guilty of defending far too deeply. Takahara cut a forlorn figure at the tip of Osim’s 4-5-1 formation. Yuichi Komano, the standout player who fed the Eintracht Frankfurt forward for his headed goal against Montenegro on Friday, had gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, a deadly accuracy in crossing from last week deserting the Sanfrecce Hiroshima right back.

Colombia went closest to scoring in the first period — and what a goal it would have been. Vladimir Marin, the bald-headed schemer at the center of all that was good in the visitors’ midfield, gathered the ball 30 meters out and let fly with a left-footed bullet that whistled just over Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi’s bar.

It was a spectacular effort — but a halftime inquest should have brought up the question of why Marin was gifted all the time in the world to get his shot away by the half-asleep Japan midfield.

Osim acted swiftly after the turgid fare on offer in the first 45 minutes. FC Basel’s Nakata and Eintracht Frankfurt’s new signing Inamoto, both making their first appearances under the coach and both ineffective, were replaced by FC Tokyo’s Yasuyuki Konno and JEF United Chiba’s Naotake Hanyu.

They may well be sweating on their Asian Cup squad.

Osim’s substitutions hardly had a galvanizing effect — and this against a Colombian team shorn of the outrageously talented characters of its not-too-distant past. With the likes of Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincon and Faustino Asprilla in the ranks, the South Americans would surely have won at a canter.

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