A Keisuke Honda wonder goal apart, Japan failed to live up to pre-tournament expectations by crashing to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Ivory Coast. Honda gave the Japanese an early lead in the first half, but a lack of forward momentum finally cost the Samurai Blue. Wilfred Bony followed up by Gervinho minutes later turned around the tie, a match Japan were incapable of rescuing.
The big news ahead of kick off saw Zaccheroni return skipper Makoto Hasebe to the starting lineup, replacing Yasuhito Endo at the base of Japan’s midfield. Yuya Osako was controversially selected ahead of the likes of Yoichiro Kakitani and Yoshito Okubo, while Masato Morishige kept his place alongside Maya Yoshida in central defence. The main talking point in the Ivorian lineup saw Wilfired Bony take Didier Drogba’s place in attack.
The Ivorians were the quickest out of the blocks, controlling possession from the off as Japan contently sat back and soaked up the pressure. Bony alongside Kalou and Gervinho in the Ivory Coast attack were already proving a handful but a lack of quality finishing and some impressive blocks from an improving Yoshida kept the Elephants at bay.
Totally against the run of play, Japan found their way into it, first Shinji Okazaki went close with a near post header before Keisuke Honda arrived at the party. Neat interplay by Nagatomo and Kagawa down the left found Honda in space on the edge of the area, before side stepping Yaya Toure and unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner of Barry’s net. A frustrating start was perfectly complimented with a great counter goal, the Japanese game plan was working to a tee.
Such a well organised plan needed to be applauded. Well organised, hard working and disciplined, Japan defended from the front and looked generally solid for the rest of the half even though they rarely had control of the possession. The only warning signs came late on in the first half as Ivory Coast made the most of the space in front of the defence, Die and Kalou both forcing dangerous fouls on the edge of Japan’s box.
With that in mind, Japan began to sit deeper and deeper, so much so that at the beginning of the second half wingers Okazaki and Kagawa were camped back in their own half covering the attacking bursts of the impressive Serge Aurier and Artur Boka. It was an inevitability that Japan’s resilience would be tested, and soon after they were pegged back. The introduction of Didier Drogba to the piece caused uncertainty in the back line, Endo replaced the wilting Hasebe in defensive midfield while the Ivorians sought after a precious equaliser.
Two crosses in two minutes in almost identical fashion saw Aurier deliver, unopposed for Bony then Gervinho to head Ivory Coast in front within minutes. Zaccheroni’s plan that was so finely executed in the first period had clearly gone too far. Gervinho’s second which was clumsily fumbled into the net by keeper Kawashima saw 9 out of the 11 Japan players retreated in their own penalty area, none of whom closed down Aurier or closely monitored Gervinho enough to stop the goal.
A situation you’d assume Japan wouldn’t be foreign to after staging dramatic comebacks in the majority of their recent warm up matches, however such a reverse never materialised. The depressing thing from a Japanese point of view was the lack of effort. The unquestionable talent of Keisuke Honda strutted around midfield without any impetus, while Kagawa illustrated one of his typical “Manchester United” performances on the left, failing to force himself on the action.
In attack, Osako was non-existent in an attacking sense, while his eventual replacement Okubo provided even less. Everyone expected that Japan would struggle defensively, but an abundance of energy and technical interplay was assumed as a given. It wasn’t clear whether Zaccheroni’s tactics were to blame or that the sheer will and determination of the Japan attack was lacking. In truth it was a bit of both, as they petered out for the final 15 minutes.
Last night, the headline makers were out in force, praising a spirited and wholehearted display from Australia, tonight however a clearly superior skilled Asian squad failed to even get close to that benchmark. Tactically Japan were proficient for the first half but a lack of flexibility to change back to their usual possession based attacking style wasn’t forthcoming and ultimately proved their undoing. With Colombia winning in the other Group C encounter earlier in the day, Japan have much to do if they still hope to progress to the knockout stages.
Player ratings (/5)
Eiji Kawashima – 2/5 – Generally solid but at fault for the second Ivory Coast goal.
Atsuto Uchida – 3/5 – Did little wrong individually and looked adventurous when attacking.
Maya Yoshida – 4/5 – Japan’s best player, looked strong for much of the match.
Masato Morishige – 3/5 – Competent play for much of the match. Turned too easily late on.
Yuto Nagatomo – 2/5 – Assisted Honda in the first half but failed to close down Aurier twice for Ivory Coast’s goals.
Makoto Hasebe – 2/5 – Out of sorts, maybe lacked match fitness. Bypassed too easily.
Hotaru Yamaguchi – 2/5 – Solid in possession, but lacked the bite needed defensively.
Shinji Okazaki – 2/5 – Worked incredibly hard as usual but offered nothing going forward.
Keisuke Honda – 3/5 – Wonder goal apart, only occasionally sprung into life. Looked disinterested for much of the second half.
Shinji Kagawa – 2/5 – Anonymous for someone of his standard. Failed to link up effectively with Honda.
Yuya Osako – 2/5 – Closed down the Ivorian defence well but didn’t contribute enough in possession.
Yasuhito Endo – 2/5 – Lacked his usual composure on the ball. Sat too deep in midfield.
Yoshito Okubo – 2/5 – Did very little after coming on. Failed to link up play with the midfield.
Yoichiro Kakitani – N/A – Didn’t have enough time to make an impact on the match.