Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nowhere to go but up for Japan

Disappointed Japanese national team players were trying to stay positive Wednesday night in light of their surprising 1-0 loss to Bahrain in World Cup qualifying in Manama.

It was the first loss in seven matches for the Asian giants under new manager Takeshi Okada, but it left the team three points adrift of Bahrain in Asian Group B of qualifying for South Africa 2010.

Japan conceded in the 77th minute to an Ala’a Hubail header after goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi made a mess of an attempted punch of an Ismail Abdullatif cross. The ball fell kindly to Hubail, who nodded it over Kawaguchi as defender Yuji Nakazawa vainly attempted to prevent the shot from crossing the line.

“In the dressing room after the game the talk was all about what we need to do in our next games. We have to stay positive,” said Nagoya Grampus striker Keiji Tamada. “Of course, we can’t dismiss what happened today. We have to learn our lessons and correct them.”

Japan struggled to find any kind of rhythm and looked confused and apprehensive going forward in a new-look 3-5-2 formation.

The players admitted the 33 degree heat and state of the pitch worked against them but were also quick to accept the blame for playing far below expectations.
Midfielder Yasuhito Endo pointed to Japan’s failure to dictate play, particularly up front.

“We didn’t create a lot of chances today, especially in the first half. We need to get our act together better in front of goal and vary the tempo of our attack more,” Endo said.

Japan played without injured striker Naohiro Takahara of the Urawa Reds and Europe-based stars Shunsuke Nakamura of Celtic and Junichi Inamoto of Eintracht Frankfurt, fielding an all-J.League lineup that featured JEF United Chiba striker Seiichiro Maki and Yoshito Okubo of Vissel Kobe up front.
Bahrain lead the group with six points after a 1-0 win over Oman in the first round. Oman, who beat Thailand 1-0 on Wednesday, sit behind Japan on goal difference in third. Winless Thailand pull up the rear.

“Fortunately we still have some time,” said Maki. “We’ve got to regroup, think about how we want to play and execute it in our next games. Whatever we do we need to stay positive.”

The next round of matches is scheduled for June 2. Bahrain travel to Thailand while Japan host Oman.

Copyright: C.G. Williams &

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