Ivica Osim may have been pleased with the group effort in winning the Kirin Cup but the national team coach still has lingering doubts over the ability of certain players to toe the line as Japan prepares to defend its Asian Cup crown.

News photoJapan forward Naohiro Takahara shoots with an overhead kick during Tuesday’s Kirin Cup match against
Colombia at Saitama Stadium 2002.

The 2-0 victory against Montenegro on Friday and scoreless draw against Colombia not only gave Osim his first piece of silverware as Japan coach but also plenty of selection headaches as he fine-tunes his squad ahead of the July 7-29 finals in Southeast Asia where a third straight Asian title is up for grabs.

Osim didn’t name any names but the coach was critical of certain players after the Colombia game Tuesday, either for being too “individual” or simply lacking fitness.

The coach’s words of warning will have some players sweating on their places ahead of the squad announcement, expected at the end of June after the final round of J.League matches before the midseason break.

“It’s the same for each individual on the team,” said Osim. “As a team I want the players to comprehend how to play together, rest together, train before games together, and other specifics.

“I am sure that everyone likes a good player, but even if he is a good player it’s not like he is exempt from having to run. If the player doesn’t run, it becomes a liability for the coach.

“There were players who played well and there were players who played even better. I will not say who it is, but there were players who weren’t in shape. And that is the simple cause of why the system (tried on Tuesday) didn’t work as well as it should have.”

Osim’s comments started a guessing game as to which players he could be talking about. The coach called up Europe-based players Koji Nakata and Junichi Inamoto for the first time for the Kirin Cup matches, but neither played a part against Montenegro and both were taken off at halftime against Colombia.

Nakata’s substitution could be explained by an injury, but Inamoto looked out of sorts in the five-man midfield.

Inamoto, though, may not be too worried about his squad place for the finals. It was reported over the weekend that the midfielder, who recently signed for Eintracht Frankfurt, would rather concentrate on preseason training with the German club than play for Japan.

Osim may well make the decision for him.

There is also speculation Osim’s comments could have been directed toward Shunsuke Nakamura, the Celtic playmaker as ineffective as Inamoto against the Colombians. A successful— and long— season in Scotland may now be taking its toll on the midfielder.

Osim left no doubt as to what he would have done if the game Tuesday had been more than a glorified friendly.

“Had today been a game where we were fighting for a point, within the first 10 minutes I would have substituted a player,” the coach said. “But the game today wasn’t like that, but rather about creating as many chances over a long course of time and because of that it seemed like there were a lot of individuality in our approach.”

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