Japan’s 0-0 draw with Greece in one sentence:
The replay of Japan's 2006 debacle continues, exactly as predicted - four years of success and optimism scuttled by a stubborn refusal to retire aging players when their usefulness is exhausted. When will we ever learn?
What we’ll remember:
Apart from the final score and the fact that Greece played shorthanded for an hour? Practically nothing. This may quite possibly have been the least memorable match of the World Cup. That is to say… since 1930.
1. What was Alberto Zaccheroni thinking? Did he leave Masato Morishige on the bench to “save him” for the Colombia match (ie. to avoid a second yellow card)? Did he bring on Yasuhito Endo for Makoto Hasebe because Endo did so well in the Ivory Coast contest? Did he forget that each team is allowed to make three substitutions? The sheer lack of ideas and inept use of personnel displayed by Alberto Zaccheroni in this World Cup is almost hard to believe, even for someone who has been noting his shortcomings for several years. You could write an entire book discussing the decisions that he could have made – that he should have made – but did not. As the clock ticked down towards the final whistle you could hear every football fan in Japan screaming for him to bring on Manabu Saito, as an additional striker with skills for penetrating on the dribble. It never happened. Zac stuck with the same game plan that failed at the Confederations Cup. It failed this time too. At least you can give him credit for consistency.
2. Shinji Kagawa was dropped from the starting lineup, signifying in the clearest possible way that Japan’s players had lost faith in their own abilities. There was never any indication that Japan was mentally prepared to win this match. The lack of ideas and initiative from the players mirrored the lack of ideas and initiative from their coach. As they came out of the locker room at half time, with a one-man advantage and 45 minutes to work with, you could see in their eyes that they lacked the self-confidence to score. End of story.
3. Greece deserve credit for playing to their strengths and never giving up. Yes, the incessant fouling was hard to stomach at times. This was anti-football at its worst. But Greece got Japan to play the game that they wanted to play, and it worked. For 60 minutes, the Spartans held the pass against superior numbers, and as the clock ticked along it was the Samurai Blue who lost their self-confidence and initiative.
In September of 2012 I posted an article on this very site, observing that, “Unless Coach Zaccheroni stops calling up the defensive midfield and central defense players he has relied on for the past three years, and replaces them with younger, more capable personnel, it is an absolute certainty that Japan will be knocked out of the World Cup in the pool round. Indeed, the Samurai Blue will be very lucky to even get a single point.”
I guess that’s the good news. Japan did manage to get a point.