OSAKA – Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic ripped into his players and accused them of not being nasty enough after their lack of a mean streak was laid bare in Tuesday night’s 2-1 Kirin Cup final defeat to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Hiroshi Kiyotake gave Japan a 28th-minute lead, only for the team to immediately switch off and allow towering striker Milan Duric to equalize seconds later.
The Cesena man proved to be a thorn in Japan’s side and snatched victory with his fourth goal of the tournament, with Halilhodzic’s men far too slow to react to a quickly taken free kick from Haris Medunjanin in the 66th minute.
The defeat was Japan’s first since a second-string team lost 2-1 to North Korea at the East Asian Cup in August last year and the first for Halilhodzic with a full-strength squad available.
The former Algeria coach admitted the players had paid for their naivety in what was their last match before the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup starting in September, and that the defeat was a timely reality check.
“Bosnia were more realistic but we were way too naive,” said Halilhodzic, whose team had thrashed Bulgaria 7-2 in its opening game of the four-team tournament in Toyota on Friday.
“There was a bit of fatigue but we switched off. I think some of the players in their minds were already on holiday. There was still some euphoria from the win against Bulgaria but this second game has brought us back to reality.
“We hardly had any free kicks today. Our opponents drew fouls but there was none of that from us and we were too nice. I don’t think over these two games we had any free kicks in the last 30 meters of the pitch. To me that is unbelievable.”
He added, “This is my first defeat with a full-strength A team. I hate losing but it is something you have to accept. You can’t win every game. I don’t expect us to lose like this in the final World Cup qualifiers and I have got a full understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of this team.”
Japan was fielding an under-strength side, with AC Milan attacker Keisuke Honda and Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa on the bench nursing injuries, but Honda viewed the loss as a welcome wake-up call.
“I think psychologically the Bulgaria win made us a bit complacent but the biggest thing that we gained from this match is that we lost,” said Honda.
“It is no fun losing and the knives come out for us but I think this defeat has come at a good time. All of the players need to take a good look at themselves.”
Halilhodzic handed Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Japan Under-23 livewire Takuma Asano his first senior start, while Jubilo Iwata’s Yuki Kobayashi made his debut after coming on in the second half.
Asano missed a glorious chance to equalize in the late stages, opting to pass instead of shooting from a great position, and shed tears of frustration after the final whistle.
“It was good that we were also able to test out some younger players,” said Honda, adding that he had trouble understanding Asano’s tears.
“There are two types of player. There are players that cry when we lose at Milan too. I want to say ‘don’t cry’ but then these are tears of frustration and disappointment.”
“I don’t cry so I don’t understand why other players cry.”
Asano said, “I really regret passing instead of shooting for that decisive chance. Whether or not the ball had gone in the net or not I should have gone for the shot.”
Japan begins its final qualifying campaign for the World Cup at home to the United Arab Emirates on Sept. 1.