ITU, BRAZIL – Clearly feeling the heat as the sun looks ready to set on Japan’s World Cup, coach Alberto Zaccheroni has defended his decision to deploy power-play tactics, but conceded his players have struggled to adapt because it is “not in their DNA.”
The Asian champions’ trademark game, which relies on pace and short, quick passing movements, has proved largely ineffective so far in their first two matches at the World Cup.
As a result, the Samurai Blue’s hopes of making the knockout phase are hanging by a thread ahead of Tuesday’s final Group C game against already qualified Colombia.
Japan had to resort to long ball tactics in the late stages of its 2-1 defeat by Cote d’Ivoire on June 14 after squandering a one-goal lead in its opening game in Recife.
A stream of high balls into the box from predictable patterns of play in the second half also came to nothing as Greece comfortably held on for a 0-0 draw, despite being reduced to 10 men late in the first half in Natal on Thursday.
Speaking on Saturday at a hastily arranged press conference at the team’s training base in Itu after deciding to give the players the day off, Zaccheroni said, “Power play is an option but we are only talking about (using it for) several minutes, not the entire game.
“I am well aware that it (power play) is not in our squad’s DNA. We are a team that should try and take control of games and that is the kind of team that I have tried to create.
“But when we can’t do that we have to try and exercise that option and give it a shot in the last few minutes.”
“When I became coach of the national team, I wanted to respect the Japanese way of playing while adding intensity and aggression. That is what I have tried to do up to now,” the former AC Milan and Juventus coach continued.
“I have seen around 200 J. League games and have hardly seen power-play or long-ball tactics used in any of them. Obviously I understand that it doesn’t exist in Japanese soccer and I know they can’t play it for more than five minutes.”
Zaccheroni opted not to include an out-and-out target man like Mike Havenaar in his World Cup squad, but he believed it would not have made any difference, given Japan’s inability to switch to more direct tactics during past games.
“In past national team games I have put players that are strong in the air on near the end of the game, but even when I have done that we haven’t been able to switch from stringing passes together on the floor,” he said.
“Japanese players are maybe just accustomed to playing that way from childhood.”
Amid an explosion of flashbulbs, Zaccheroni apologized to a sizable media contingent for canceling training but insisted it was not because of a problem with the players’ physical condition.
“I decided to cancel training late this morning and I am sorry that the media can’t talk to the players today but I am asking for your patience,” he said.
“There is no problem with the players physically but I decided to give them the day off so they can go into the next game in the right frame of mind.
“I know the team hasn’t played well in the last two games and I am not going to make any excuses. I know we haven’t been able to play our brand and all the players feel that this is not the way we have been playing over the past four years.
“I’m not satisfied with the performances and the results at this point and I have made the decision (to rest the players) so we can go into the next match in good condition.”