Aguirre focuses on team building

by Andrew McKirdy

Javier Aguirre will be looking for positive performances in Japan’s friendlies against Jamaica and Brazil over the coming week, but after failing to register a win in his first two games as manager, positive results would be even more welcome.

Japan plays Jamaica in Niigata on Friday before heading to Singapore to face the five-time world champion Brazilians four days later, with Aguirre hoping for a better outcome than his debut at the helm last month.

Japan lost 2-0 to Uruguay before twice throwing away a lead to draw 2-2 with Venezuela, leaving Aguirre with only four games to make his mark before Japan begins the defense of its Asian Cup title in Australia in January.

The Mexican is still familiarizing himself with Japanese soccer having arrived in August with no prior experience of the country, and his trial-and-error selection process continues with three more uncapped players getting the call for this week’s matches.

The importance of winning is clearly secondary to building a team, but Aguirre will nonetheless want a victory under his belt as soon as possible and will not relish the prospect of heading to the Asian Cup without one.

“We have to prepare for the four games we have ahead of the Asian Cup,” Aguirre said in a recent interview. “First and foremost we have to win, that is what I am worried about. If we win, we will be able to relax and be able to train really well.”

Aguirre’s task will be helped by the excellent form of attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda, who has scored four goals in six league games for AC Milan this season having earned himself a regular place in the starting lineup.

Honda scored his latest goal direct from a free kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Chievo, and Milan vice president Adriano Galliani is already wondering how the club will cope without him during the Asian Cup.

“The fact that we will be missing Honda for the whole of January will really hurt us,” said Galliani. “I’ll complain about this when the time comes. He’s a very important player for us.”

Aguirre will also be keen to see what Shinji Kagawa can do after a concussion ruled the Borussia Dortmund playmaker out of last month’s games. Kagawa is still refinding his feet in Germany after a frustrating spell at Manchester United, but Aguirre is hoping the 25-year-old can play a central role for his country.

“He’s a high-quality player with the ability to find a lot of solutions,” said Aguirre. “He can offer us a lot in the attacking third of the pitch. He’s been in Europe for a long time and the defensive part of his game is also very good.

“He’s a good all-rounder and I’m glad he can be involved.”

Japan’s opening games under Aguirre may not have set pulses racing, but the manager’s bold selections did at least uncover some promising material. FC Tokyo’s Yoshinori Muto and Kashima Antlers’ Gaku Shibasaki both impressed in their debuts, and if Aguirre’s latest new faces can show they belong at this level, the Mexican will have some interesting options.

A game against Brazil is no place to experiment, however, and Aguirre will know that a heavy defeat so early in his team’s development could have damaging consequences.

A first-ever win over the famous yellow shirts, on the other hand, would be quite a different story.