ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA – Japan manager Akira Nishino admitted on Sunday that he has not drilled his players for a penalty shootout ahead of their World Cup round-of-16 match against Belgium.
Nishino said he sees no point in rehearsing a penalty shootout scenario because it is impossible to recreate the pressure players face taking spot kicks during a match on the training pitch.
“There are many different aspects, and it is really tense when it comes to a penalty shootout. Therefore, I don’t think it is really useful to practice for a penalty shootout, per se,” he said, before outright stating that “we haven’t actually practiced” them.
Such a strategy is risky, especially as the last time Japan had the chance to reach the final eight of a World Cup, in South Africa in 2010, Paraguay knocked Samurai Blue out 5-3 on penalties after the teams finished extra time even at 0-0.
On that day in Pretoria, it was Yuichi Komano who missed the crucial kick, hitting the crossbar after Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe had kept Japan level after two rounds of shots.
Paraguay then converted its final two kicks to move on to the quarterfinals, denying Japan a best-ever World Cup finish.
Speaking before his manager at Rostov Arena on Sunday, Gen Shoji seemed to be of a similar opinion, saying he also sees penalty shootouts as a mental challenge.
“In terms of PKs, or the penalty shootout, it is important to prepare ourselves, but I think it is the mental aspect that really counts,” he said.