SAPPORO – AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda jokingly questioned whether he was the right man to lead Japan after he was made captain for Friday’s 2-0 defeat at home to Uruguay in coach Javier Aguirre’s first game in charge.
With regular captain Makoto Hasebe having been forced to leave the team on Thursday with a left knee injury, Honda got the nod for the captain’s armband ahead of goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and Southampton central defender Maya Yoshida.
“It’s a bit troublesome, or should I say a job that brings with it responsibility,” the outspoken Honda told reporters.
“I want to have freedom and I don’t know if I can kill my passion and guarantee that I can behave like a captain. I feel as though the coach thinks team harmony is important.”
Aguirre said he had given Honda, who failed to shine in Friday’s game, the nod based on his experience.
“I told the players that the captains in the team were Honda, Eiji and Maya and that Honda was going to take the armband,” he told the post-match press conference.
“The goalkeeper is too far away from the referee and taking experience into account I decided to go with Honda (ahead of Yoshida),” said the Mexican.
Honda also admitted his disappointment at not being able to give Aguirre a winning start.
“The coach told me that we had not had much time to prepare and said he would have been pleased if we could replicate as much as possible what we have been doing in training,” he said.
“I wanted to get the job done. For the players as well as the coach there is pressure when you don’t win.”
Aguirre handed debuts to four players — Yusuke Minagawa, Tatsuya Sakai, Yoshinori Muto and Ryota Morioka — but Honda said it was important not to spoil them.
“At the moment they have talent but can’t be treated softly. Whether these players grow is down to them.”
Sakai had one of a pair of defensive lapses that helped consign Japan to a defeat.
Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani took advantage of a poor control from Sakai to put the Copa America holders in front on 34 minutes, and after Hiroki Sakai failed to properly clear his line, substitute Abel Hernandez capped a miserable debut for Aguirre by slotting home in the 73rd.
“We made two big defensive mistakes and that cost us the game,” said Aguirre, the first Japan coach to lose in his debut since Shu Kamo in 1995.
“Neither team created that many chances but we have to learn from making mistakes against big teams. When you do that against Uruguay you are going to get punished for it. You can’t give away goals like that. The difference came down to their experience and our mistakes, but we have Venezuela next (on Tuesday) and we have to keep our heads up.
“It’s not easy to play against a team like Uruguay after just a few training sessions. We have a young team and four players made their debut today. We didn’t get the right result, but there were some aspects that I was satisfied with.”
The former Mexico coach went mainly for experience in his starting 11 aside from the four new faces.
Muto came on as a late substitute and almost marked his international debut with a sensational strike but his left-foot effort from distance hit the inside of the post before bouncing clear.
Sporting Lisbon’s Junya Tanaka also made his first international appearance since debuting against Iceland in February 2012.
Japan faces Venezuela in Yokohama in the second of six friendlies lined up for Aguirre’s men before launching the defense of the Asian Cup in Australia in January.
Uruguay, whose head coach Oscar Tabarez has skipped the trip to East Asia as he recovers from back surgery, plays South Korea on Tuesday.