WUHAN, CHINA – Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic has blasted his players and ordered them to show some pride after a shock 2-1 defeat to North Korea in their East Asian Cup opener in China on Sunday.
Second-string Japan made a dream start as Yuki Muto fired the defending champions into a third-minute lead on his debut, but North Korea piled on the pressure after the break and Ri Hyok Chol equalized before Pak Hyon Il added the second with two minutes left to complete the stunning upset.
The defeat followed an embarrassing 0-0 draw at home to lowly Singapore in June in Japan’s opening World Cup qualifier for the 2018 finals in Russia. It was also the team’s first loss since Halilhodzic took over in March.
And the former Algeria coach let his players know in no uncertain terms what he expected of them as he ripped into them in a meeting before Monday’s training session.
“It can’t go on like this. You have to show pride,” barked the Franco-Bosnian. “(Otherwise) we will end up going home without winning a game.”
Halilhodzic has already voiced the need for more time with the team to strengthen his players and he repeated that request directly to Japan Football Association president Kuniya Daini.
“We have to change the quality of training. Our condition is not good and physically we are not strong,” he said.
Daini himself admitted, “Japan are in a crisis and something has to change.”
Cerezo Osaka midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi, meanwhile, said that the players needed to have cool heads and make their own calls to give themselves breathing space.
“Playing with pace going forward like the coach wants us to is best, but we have to make our own decisions and buy ourselves time to settle things down.”
With the East Asian Cup falling outside of the official FIFA calendar, Halilhodzic was unable to call on his European-based stars such as AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda and Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki, and picked several untried players in a domestic-based 23-man squad.
Japan faces arch-rival South Korea in its next match at the four-team round-robin tournament on Wednesday before wrapping things up against hosts China on Sunday.
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