HANOI — Ivica Osim was left to lament a lack of invention among his star players after Japan’s bid for a third-straight Asian Cup title ended with a 3-2 semifinal defeat to Saudi Arabia.
A tired Japan twice battled back from a goal deficit Wednesday through central defenders Yuji Nakazawa and Yuki Abe, but an opener from Yasser Al Qahtani and two brilliant second-half goals from Malek Maaz sent the Saudis through to Sunday’s final against Iraq.
Osim said the team’s fatigue played a factor in the loss.
“It really showed. There just weren’t enough risks being taken,” said national team coach Osim, stopping just short of singling out individual players for criticism.
“I’m not naming names, but if you watched the match you’ll know who I’m talking about.
“There were some players who just didn’t perform today.”
Europe-based players Shunsuke Nakamura and Naohiro Takahara were largely anonymous against the Saudis, and Eintracht Frankfurt forward Takahara agreed it was a disappointing performance from Japan.
“We were playing tough opponents, but at the end of the day we didn’t show the movement that we showed in previous games and there were a lot of mistakes throughout the team,” said Takahara, Japan’s top scorer in the tournament with four goals.
“We weren’t able to get a rhythm going and we were punished for our mistakes when we got hit on the break. We just kept putting ourselves on the back foot.”
Nakamura said the Japanese couldn’t muster the strength for the same response they gave in the quarterfinals, when they clawed their way back into the game against Australia and went on to win on penalties.
“We had come back in the last game and that’s when you really need to be physically strong and mentally tough,” said the Celtic midfielder.
“When you have to get yourselves back into the game, the way you need to move the ball around is different and we didn’t do that today.
“They had two excellent forwards (on the counterattack) . . . Saudi Arabia did their homework and focused on putting eight men behind the ball and that made life difficult.”
Osim still believed Japan played well enough to win.
“Overall I don’t think we played that badly. I didn’t feel our opponents were that strong and felt we were very unlucky with the goals we conceded,” said the Bosnian coach.
“Perhaps we should have been more aggressive and taken the initiative but we couldn’t change the flow of the game. That was probably our biggest problem.
“We came from behind twice but couldn’t do it a third time, but all credit to the players. I think we had probably about 10 chances and if we had taken half of those we would have won easily. Sometimes these things happen. The lucky team made the final.
“The Saudis’ goals came at the right time for them, but I have to congratulate them,” said Osim.
Japan now travels to Palembang on the Indonesian island of Sumatra for the third-place playoff against archrival South Korea, which lost 4-3 on penalties to Iraq in the other semifinal.
A place in the 2011 Asian Cup finals is on the line for the winner, but Osim insisted he would make changes for a match many hoped would be the final.
“It’s a shame it is not the championship match,” said Osim.
“The players that played today are exhausted so I will be putting a few fresh faces in the lineup.”
Midfielder Keita Suzuki said: “Obviously, we wanted to get to the final, and it would have been nice to play South Korea, but this is reality.”
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