Japan coach under fire
Japan’s shock Asian Cup quarter-final exit has left their big-money players dumbfounded and plunged the future of Mexican coach Javier Aguirre into doubt.
The holders crashed out on penalties against the United Arab Emirates after superstars Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa missed from the spot in yesterday’s nail-biter in Sydney as Aguirre paid the price for not rotating his squad in the group stages.
The Japan Football Association (JFA) said, less than 24 hours after the defeat, that it would retain Aguirre’s services but it remains to be seen if they would stay true to their word.
Aguirre is scheduled to appear in court in Valencia next month following an investigation into match-fixing dating back to his time as manager of Real Zaragoza in 2011.
The 56-year-old took over after the World Cup for a record salary for a Japan coach — an estimated US$2.45 million ($3.3m) a year — but failure in Australia has upped the pressure on the Mexican.
His lack of tactical acumen at the Asian Cup was alarming.
The players, though, have to also shoulder much of the blame for their uncharacteristically early exit at Asia’s premier tournament.
Kagawa, who has gone horribly off the boil for Japan since losing his place at Manchester United last season and returning to Borussia Dortmund, was inconsolable after slamming his kick against the post, allowing the UAE to win the shoot-out 5-4.
“I missed and we lost — I’m deeply sorry,” said the playmaker, who wasted several good opportunities to win the game, which finished 1-1 after extra time, and whose prolonged spell in the doldrums has been a source of concern for his Japan teammates.
“I can’t turn back time,” he said.
“Maybe there’s a reason why I missed.”
Honda, who had scored twice from the spot in the group stages, struggled to find an explanation.
“It’s a harsh reality,” said Japan’s blond cult hero, who blazed the team’s first penalty wildly over the bar.
“It shows we were perhaps a bit naive in not being able to cope with the pressure to win the tournament.
“I said it after the World Cup too but we weren’t prepared for such a tough game,” added the AC Milan midfielder, comparing the team’s early exit to last year’s disappointment in Brazil.
“Mentally we were not able to adjust.”
Asked about his woeful spot kick, Honda replied: “I’ve seen big players miss penalties on TV and it hurts that I’ll be remembered for it now too. I tried to hit it hard but I just didn’t catch it right.”