For Japan, attack is key to World Cup revival

By Joji Sakurai
Associated Press

Shinji Kagawa

ITU, Brazil (AP) – Shinji Kagawa had a tormented, sleepless night after Japan was beaten by Ivory Coast under a torrential Brazilian downpour.

He knows now that there’s only one way to get back into the World Cup: Attack.

“We just have to go for it,” the Manchester United star said last week, after a practice session.

As he greeted reporters at the team’s base camp in Itu, Kagawa admitted with a sheepish grin: “Didn’t sleep last night … The next match was on my mind but it was really yesterday that weighed. I was miserable to my heart’s content. But just need to snap out of that … and go for the win.”

Under Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan has chiseled a style based on relentless pressure and precision play-making to force opponents onto the defensive.

Aside from a moment of first-half brilliance — in which the Europe-based star trio of Kagawa, Yuto Nagatomo, and Keisuke Honda clicked to choreograph a classic Honda strike — there was little of that to be seen in Japan’s 2-1 defeat to Ivory Coast.

Japan appeared to be spooked by the power and pace of “Les Elephants,” hesitant to go all out for goal as they have done so many times in the past.

To be sure, Japan’s trademark attacking style has often left them vulnerable in defense. But as they strive to regroup, there’s agreement in the Japan camp that the only way forward is to abandon fear.

Shinji Okazaki, who scored 15 goals last season for Bundesliga team Mainz, conceded that Japan were too tentative against the African team, afraid to take risks.

“We kept back,” Okazaki said. “Then when we tried to go forward, we screwed up.

“We’re a team that attacks, and we just need to create more chances.”

Kagawa seemed particularly wooden and listless — and he admitted that he felt the pressure of being at his first World Cup.

Japan captain Makoto Haseba echoed the view that the Blue Samurai have to go back to being themselves — no matter what the dangers of an attack-focused style.

“We’ve prepared well to express our soccer style, but we showed our inexperience in not being able to express it tonight.”

Veteran striker Yoshito Okubo had a somewhat more damning assessment after the loss: “We were behind anyway so you might as well go for it. … We were panicking.” (end)

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