You took this job right after last year’s FIFA World Cup – what was your reaction to Japan’s performance in that tournament?
I thought Japan would be able to get through the first round as long as their players could show their abilities and play with confidence.
The groups Japan and Brazil were in looked to be easier than the others in terms of chances to qualify for the second round (Japan were with Belgium, Russia and Tunisia, while Brazil confronted Turkey, China and Costa Rica).
I thought that if the Japanese players could deal with the extra pressure of playing at home and use it to their advantage, they would have a good chance of finishing on top of their group, but that depended on the result of the (opening) Belgium match.
Eventually, everything came down to the Turkey game. Turkey were not at their best in that match because of suspensions to some key players. If Japan could have taken advantage of that – and played better overall – then they would have advanced to the next round.
Co-hosts Korea found themselves in the opposite position to Japan. Italy, Korea’s opponent at the same stage, represented a tough hurdle and not one you would have expected them to overcome. But Korea took a risk and attacked Italy hard, which eventually helped them advance to the next round. Japan should have done the same, but they didn’t.
At 1-0 down with ten minutes remaining, I couldn’t see any signs of desperation in the Japanese players, no great efforts to get the goal back. It made me wonder if they really wanted to go to the quarter-finals. That’s what I felt indignant about.
Turkey, like Japan, had never reached the second round of a World Cup. So if Japan had beaten Turkey, they would have played Senegal next, who, I thought, didn’t look too difficult to handle. Japan could have gone as far as the Final, but I felt the players themselves closed the door to such a possibility.
Your predecessor Philippe Troussier made some surprising changes to the starting line-up for the Turkey match. What did you think about that?
Well, it’s a difficult thing to judge. He had been coaching the squad for a long time and, based on that, he selected his players for the game, believing that the line-up was the best choice. No coaches want to lose, so you cannot blame him too much.
But his philosophy is ``system first’’ and he put the players into his system. Each coach has his own thoughts, and I’m different from him in this respect.
(Forwards Atsushi) Yanagisawa and Takayuki (Suzuki) had played well in previous games and (midfielder Hiroaki) Morishima had also shown good movement in the Tunisia game, so I understood that bringing on Morishima was the signal to attack and go for the win. As for (forward Akinori) Nishizawa, although I have no doubts about his ability, he had had a month-long break before the World Cup. Meanwhile, Alex (Santos) must have felt a little confused as he was played at centre forward for the very first time in his career.
It would have been all right if the team had won, but they didn’t. If I had been him (Troussier), I wouldn’t have played in the same way but it’s all down to the coach’s philosophy.