It’s All Over, Samurai Blue: Japan Examines Poor World Cup Showing

Alberto Zaccheroni has decided to step down as Japan manager after a disappointing World Cup campaign that saw them pick up just one point from their three games.

In the end they were outclassed by one of the strongest teams in the tournament in Colombia, though in truth the damage had already been done in the opening two games. The Ivory Coast and Greece are by no means weak opposition, but they were there for the taking, particularly when the latter went down to ten men. Japan failed to capitalize and paid the ultimate price, finishing bottom of their group for the third time in five world cups.

For all their fight and endeavor they just seem to lack that cutting edge to really hurt teams. At times it can be painful to watch; lots of nice passes that don’t seem to go anywhere. Whilst we are now used to seeing Japan perform like this at World Cups, the belief this time was that things would be different. Leading up to Brazil, they looked impressive in many friendly games, attacking with a real verve and vigor. Perhaps those displays created a false sense of optimism.

“It’s embarrassing,” says AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda. “I said that Japan could win the tournament and it just ended as empty talk….We simply weren’t good enough at this World Cup. We’ve got a lot to learn.”

His excellently taken goal and assist for Shinji Okazaki’s header aside, Honda had a disappointing tournament. Injuries appear to have taken their toll on the county’s most idolized footballer and he now looks a shadow of the player that tormented opposition defenses four years ago.

The other high profile figure in the squad also had a World Cup to forget: Shinji Kagawa had a shocker against the Ivory Coast and was then dropped for the clash against Greece. He showed glimpses of his talent in the final game, but never really looked like opening the Colombian defence up. Following a frustrating two years at Old Trafford, that seems to have completely drained his confidence, you could sense how desperate Kagawa was to impress, yet the ball just didn’t seem to run for him.

“It hurts to go out like this,” he told reporters after the Colombia match. “I don’t have any other words. I feel responsible and deeply sorry. It’s pathetic.”

Honda and Kagawa were certainly not the only two players to underperform. It’s hard to think of a single Japan player who came out of the tournament with any credit. Defensively they were poor, their midfield was solid but far from spectacular, while up front they looked completely toothless. Departing manager Alberto Zaccheroni has taken “full responsibility” for Japan’s underwhelming campaign.

“I am disappointed and not satisfied with the results,” said the former Juventus boss at a press conference in Itu. “I really wanted to take us forward and qualify for the second round and I am so disappointed. But I picked the team, decided on the tactics and how we play and I want to take full responsibility.”

With Zaccheroni resigning the search for his successor begins. José Pékerman, whose Colombia side have started this World Cup so impressively, has been linked to the post, though that might just be fanciful thinking. A more realistic target may be Javier Aguirre, who guided Mexico to the knockout stages in 2002 and 2010. Perhaps it is time to go back to a Japanese coach?

Whoever takes the position will be inheriting a talented squad that keeps the ball well, but isn’t effective enough with it. For a country that has progressed rapidly over the past two decades, this World Cup feels like a massive backward step. Hopefully there will be a lot more to celebrate in four years time. Roll on Russia 2018.

By Matthew Hernon

Image: FIFA World Cup/Facebook

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