Under-fire coach Takeshi Okada bemoaned Japan's "timid" football and called for more aggression after their 1-1 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying draw against Uzbekistan.
Keiji Tamada cancelled out Maksim Shatskikh's 27th-minute opener to earn a point, but it was the first time in 11 years that Japan failed to win a home FIFA World Cup qualifier. "What I regret is that we got somewhat timid when the opponents unexpectedly exerted pressure up front," Okada said in Saitama after Japan's second 1-1 draw in two games. "We often resorted to back passes."
"In the second half, we created chances but could not put them away," he said. "If we had played aggressively from the first half, there would have been more chances."
Japan, ranked 32nd in the world, converted only one of 14 attempts on goal despite Okada's insistence on extra shooting practice before the game. The three-time Asian champions were also held 1-1 draw by UAE in a friendly last week.
However Okada, in his second stint as national coach after leading Japan in their winless FIFA World Cup finals debut in 1998, sounded a note of optimism. "I believe there is nothing wrong in what we are trying to do. It is important to continue doing it," said the 52-year-old coach, who has emphasised that the whole team should be involved in both defence and attack.
Former Mallorca striker Yoshito Okubo, who had a hand in Japan's goal, admitted his team were not aggressive enough. "The opponents were not strong but our football was too pretty," he said. "We only passed to where teammates stood and we didn't strike any fear at all."
Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura agreed that Japan needs to learn to win ugly. "We still feel we have to play good football without making a mistake. We need to be more direct at times," he said. "We will get results if we go on with confidence and no doubts in our mind."
The result allowed Australia to take the upper hand in Group A after their 4-0 home win against Qatar. Australia are top with a maximum six points from two games, while Japan and Qatar both have four. Japan beat Bahrain 3-2 in their earlier match.