Sunday, February 12, 2006

Samurai Blue 2006 … the first hiccup (USA 3 Japan 2)

Well in defeat at least they didn’t fall on their swords. In fact, they attempted valiantly to bloody their opponent’s nose. But, bar the rather extraordinary last 25 minutes (when Japan scored twice), the Japan USA friendly match was largely an embarrassment if you were supporting Japan. It will certainly act as a wake up call in Japan’s preparations for the World Cup.

The obvious things were obvious from the start. The States were bigger and stronger, but a little surprisingly, they were also more skillful and sharper at everything they did. There can be no excuses in that first hour for Japan being so slow to wake up at almost every restart. And concentration was non-existent throughout the match.

Other things became obvious, too, during those painful first sixty minutes.

Zico Japan will be heavily reliant on the experience of those players currently plying their trade abroad. None of them played against the USA. The bunch that did play lacked belief until the late resurgence, but by then the game was already lost.

Zico desperately needs to find a consistent formation that works. Playing six in midfield seems bizarre. It means that Japan get the ball but have nowhere to distribute it. Rather than highlighting the strength in that area, six in midfield throws the weaknesses in both defence and attack into sharp relief.

The defence was a panic zone. Nakazawa didn’t get close enough to his man. When he did, he was brushed off too easily. Miyamoto may excite the female fans, but he just isn’t up to it, either in ability or height. The full-backs got turned inside out all afternoon, and seemed oblivious to a quick start. They need to get tighter to their opponents. They need to wake up. But above all, the defence need to stop reacting to a ball into the box as if it is a grenade that’s been hurled into their penalty area. They all had a torrid afternoon.

The attack managed just one shot in the first hour. Poor old Kubo up front all alone (for more on the wonderful Kubo go here). His back may be better but he must be in pain after enduring those forty-five minutes. The two goals came at the end, and made the scoreline look respectable. At least one of the forwards who came on in the second-half, Maki, managed to score. But Sato, the SanFrecce Hiroshima player who was a prolific scorer in the league last year, hardly got a touch.

The bright points were few and far between. Japan looked half-decent when the full-backs got to the byline and whipped in crosses. Ono showed some decent touches. Kubo is back from injury. And at least they didn’t give up. But if they want to live up to their catchphrase of "Samurai Blue", then in future they’ll have to suit up for battle well before the last 30 minutes of a game.




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