Aguirre urges Samurai Blue to play with more imagination


Staff Writer

National team manager Javier Aguirre has urged his players to think for themselves after watching his new side fail to register a win in his first two games in charge.

Japan drew 2-2 with Venezuela in Yokohama on Tuesday night after losing 2-0 to Uruguay last Friday, giving Mexican Aguirre an inauspicious start to his tenure after taking over from Italian Alberto Zaccheroni last month.

Japan’s predictable play at this summer’s World Cup was branded “android football” by critics after a dismal first-round exit, and Aguirre revealed that he was inclined to agree after watching his team twice surrender a lead against the Venezuelans in Yokohama.

“I would like Japanese players to think outside the box,” said Aguirre, who led his native Mexico to the second round of the World Cup in both 2002 and 2010. “There isn’t a single football player who doesn’t want to play with freedom.

“The players play within a system, but within that system they have freedom. It isn’t like chess or a computer game. Football is played by human beings who think as they are playing. The players are the ones who make the decisions on the pitch.”

Japan took the lead against Venezuela through halftime substitute Yoshinori Muto before Mario Rondon equalized from the penalty spot, and debutant Gaku Shibasaki’s 67th-minute effort was also cancelled out as goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima let Gabriel Cichero’s long-range effort slip through his fingers four minutes later.

Aguirre declared himself satisfied with his players having selected an experimental squad for the two matches, but the manager conceded that there is much to work on with only four friendlies remaining before Japan defends its Asian Cup title in Australia in January.

“We weren’t able to defend tightly,” said Aguirre. “We didn’t have much luck in defense, but to concede four goals in two games is too much. We need to move the ball quicker and give the player with the ball more options. But we’ve only just started and we’ve only had a handful of training sessions, so that’s natural.

“I’m looking to see which system best fits Japanese players and at the same time looking to see which players I want to use. I think we played better in the second game than in the first, and I want us to keep improving.

“I’m satisfied that I’m working with good materials. Now it’s just a question of building a team.”

Aguirre again handed the captain’s armband to forward Keisuke Honda in the absence of the injured Makoto Hasebe, and the AC Milan star was impressed by some of the new faces in the squad if not the result.

“Of course I’m not satisfied, but this is football and we are just beginning our project,” said Honda, who hit the post with a second-half free kick. “We have a new coach and new players, so I don’t say negative things. This is alright because we know we have some good players and new talent, and I think we can improve more.

“Of course some players are new so we can’t adapt immediately. This is the beginning and it’s step by step. During these 10 days we have come to understand it little by little. I’m not worried. Of course some players can’t understand, but that’s normal.”

FC Tokyo forward Muto came off the bench to open the scoring with an eye-catching run and shot in the 51st minute, giving the 22-year-old his first international goal in only his second appearance having started his pro career at the start of this year.

Kashima Antlers midfielder Shibasaki also caught the eye with a well-taken goal on his debut, and Honda believes the injection of youth has given Japan a new edge.

“He looked fresh,” Honda said of Muto, who is still a student at Keio University. “He has good speed. He has a fresh, new style. We’ve never had his style before in the national team. I like him.

“They (Muto and Shibasaki) are good talents, but I don’t know yet. Now we have to go back to our clubs and get good results otherwise we won’t be here again. This is competition.”