For the first time in the tournament’s history, the Kirin Cup title was shared between its participants, with hosts Japan, three-time winners Peru and Czech Republic taking a share in the trophy after all the games ended goalless. The lacklustre results might have been a disappointment, but there was still satisfaction for the Japanese hosts, who can now lay claim to 11 Kirin Cup crowns.
And the games were by no means as dull as the scorelines might suggest. All three sides put in some excellent displays, with Japan testing their new three-striker formation, Peru impressing with their pacey attacking play, and Czech showcasing a water-tight defence marshaled expertly by star custodian Petr Cech.
New formation shows promise
Ahead of January's AFC Asian Cup, Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni told FIFA.com that his intention was to transform Japan with his trademark 3-4-3 tactical system, the formation he used with his scudetto-winning Milan side in 1999. " Japanese strikers are developing well," he said. "But to employ 3-4-3, we must have players who are capable of matching the job. Only when we have such players can we use this system."
Clearly, Japan's impressive performances during his first few months in charge provided the Italian with more food for thought. A spirited solitary-goal friendly win over Argentina was followed by their title-winning AFC Asian Cup campaign in January, during which Zaccheroni's side emerged as the tournament's most prolific side with 14 goals. Boosted by that success, the 58-year-old decided the time was right to introduce the 3-4-3 formation during the Kirin Cup, which arguably represents the best chance to take stock ahead of his side’s involvement in Asia's third round of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ in September.
Despite failing to find the net, Japan looked the better side in their opener against Peru, operating comfortably in their new tactical framework. They also went on to create more chances against Czech Republic and would have broken the tournament-wide deadlock but for an outstanding display from Cech. Nonetheless, Zaccheroni was pleased with his side's improvement throughout the campaign.
"I think it’s unbelievable we have made such progress in the short time we have been together," he said after Tuesday's concluding game against the Czechs. "It says everything about the quality and potential of Japanese players. I was pleasantly surprised by the performance by our team."
His optimism was echoed by captain Makoto Hasebe, who said: "We played two matches and we didn’t score in either of them. But we’re trying to do something new here. We’re taking on a challenge and I like where we’re headed."
With both Japan talisman Keisuke Honda and Peru ace Jefferson Farfan failing to find the target, it was Cech who captured most attention thanks to his shot-stopping excellence throughout the tournament. The Chelsea keeper, who was recently collected Czech Republic's Golden Ball prize for a record-equaling sixth time, played a key role as his side shut out Peru for a point in their opener. But the 29-year-old save his best for the match against the hosts, almost single-handedly earning a draw by denying the likes of midfielder Yaushito Endo and Japan’s striking duo of Shinji Okazaki and Tadanari Lee.
After heaping praise on his impressive No1, Czech coach Michal Bilek also paid tribute to his team’s youngsters. "Playing against a quality side like Japan is always a tough task, all the more so when you consider we were missing a series of regular players such as Tomas Rosicky,” he said. “But our youngsters coped well and I am quite pleased with their performances."
Also sounding am optimistic note was Peru coach Sergio Markarian, who used the tournament to prepare his side for next month's Copa America. "We played very well in these two games," said the Uruguayan. "We made good chances and our defenders did an especially good job. We are going to build up through the Copa American and our ultimate goal is to reach the World Cup in Brazil in 2014."