Japan talisman Keisuke Honda says the side must try to dominate possession if they are to keep their FIFA World Cup™ hopes alive after a defeat in their Group C opener.
Honda gave the Asian champions the lead against Côte d'Ivoire on Saturday but, inspired by Didier Drogba, the Africans hit back with two goals to leave the Blue Samurai's tournament hopes in the balance.
Alberto Zaccheroni's side cannot afford to slip up in Natal on Thursday when they meet Greece, who lost their first match 3-0 to Colombia. Honda, who plays for AC Milan, insisted that despite their disappointing start, Japan, ranked 46th in the world, could hold their own against their group rivals.
"Possession, that is our strength," said the 28-year-old, who has 57 caps and 23 international goals under his belt. "When we have the ball we just need to keep the ball and not give it away easily. When we do lose the ball we should press immediately. That is our philosophy. The last game we lost the ball too easily so that is how we spent a lot of energy in the first half, that is the point. That is why we must concentrate on keeping the ball."
The last game we lost the ball too easily so that is how we spent a lot of energy in the first half.
Despite the pressure, there was a mood of calm on Monday as the players were put through their paces at their sun-bathed training camp in Itu, outside Sao Paulo. Honda said despite the disappointment of the defeat, the squad was fit and confident about turning around their fortunes. "We still have opportunities," said the attacking midfielder, adding a key element of his role was guiding his less-experienced team-mates.
Japan reached the last 16 in South Africa four years ago before losing to Paraguay on penalties. Honda played a key role in that success, bagging the only goal in Japan's opener against Cameroon, and scoring a long-range free-kick in the victory over Denmark.
Following the defeat to Côte d'Ivoire in Recife, veteran Italian coach Zaccheroni said he expected more from his players, who struggled to compete physically with the African side. He said he could be forced into a radical rethink to salvage his team's FIFA World Cup hopes. Japan's final group match is against Colombia on 24 June in Cuiaba.