SAITAMA — National team manager Takeshi Okada has defended his side’s goalscoring record after watching Japan miss a slew of chances in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Bahrain.
Shunsuke Nakamura’s 47th-minute deflected free kick was enough to settle the World Cup qualifier at Saitama Stadium, giving Okada’s men one foot in the tournament in South Africa.
Uzbekistan routed Qatar 4-0 later in the day to leave Japan with a seven-point cushion in the automatic qualification places.
But several opportunities to open the scoring went begging before Nakamura made his decisive intervention, echoing a problem that has persisted throughout the qualification program.
Okada remains unconcerned, however, citing Bahrain’s defensive attitude and pointing to Japan’s position as top scorer in the group.
“The opponents were in a very desperate situation coming into this match,” he said. “They knew that if they lost it would almost end their hopes of qualifying.
“It’s not easy to create chances against opponents like this, but ours is certainly not a team that can’t score goals. We have scored more than any other team in the group.
“The most important thing is to keep on repeating the moves from the side and from the center, and if we get a chance from a set piece then that’s fine too.”
Japan has scored eight goals in Group A, two more than Australia. Okada’s side leapfrogged the Australians for leadership of the group on Saturday, although the Socceroos can reclaim it with a win or a draw against Uzbekistan on Wednesday.
After previously lamenting the lack of team spirit, Okada is satisfied with the way his players are now coming together.
“I said almost nothing to the players before the match,” he said. “There was no point in saying anything condescending — they know the situation and they can use their own judgment.
“This is a team that doesn’t meet up very often, but it is becoming a team little by little every time we come together. We still have to improve, and we still have to get stronger, but I’m grateful to the players for their effort.”
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