Javier Aguirre and Japan arrived in Australia as favourites for the Asian Cup. As well as the burden of favouritism and the weight of expectation from back home, the manager himself was under scrutiny for his ‘alleged’ match fixing activities of the past. Despite that, the squad and Aguirre always looked in good spirits during their time in camp.
But in the aftermath of a shock quarter final exit to United Arab Emirates, it’s fair to examine and review the team’s performance, and in particular that of the manager.
Since being in charge Aguirre’s Japan has conceded just eight goals in 11 matches. Four of them goals coming in the October thumping by Brazil, where the manager fielded an experimental squad. Settling on Yoshida (Southampton) and Morishige (FC Tokyo) for the Asian Cup, Aguirre seemed to have pulled the right rein. The pair conceded just once in their four matches in Australia.
Aguirre can also be credited for bringing fresh blood into the national team. In his short period of experimentation between the September friendlies and November friendlies, the Mexican gave time to numerous new faces. As a result youngsters Gaku Shibasaki, Yoshinori Muto and Gotoku Sakai were able to fit into the team seamlessly. The latter particularly impressive.
The debits on Aguirre’s account are there, but were they debits already owed. Many reviews into Japan’s World Cup performance concluded that Samurai Blue suffered a case of stage fright. Hailed as the ‘golden generation’, the team travelled to Brazil with a weight of expectation, unfamiliar to a Japanese national soccer team. They failed, and in Australia they failed.
In the Asian Cup quarter final against UAE, Japan bossed the possession 68% to 32%. They bossed the shots on goal stat 35-3. They won the corner count 18-0.
But as the realists among us know, stats count for nothing, and though he might want to, Aguirre can’t put the ball into the back of the net himself. The manager witnessed Japan squander chance after chance against the emerging west Asian outfit.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of the Mexican has been his failure to rotate the squad during the tournament. Aguirre used the same starting eleven for all four Asian Cup matches. Managers can always counter this by referring to combinations, and the need to improve upon them with game time. Countering that though, is the harsh seasonal shift the players would have experienced, travelling from the northern hemisphere winter to Australia’s hot summer.
Now Aguirre’s fate is in the hands of the JFA. Will they use Japan’s Asian Cup failure as an excuse to shift a manager currently under scrutiny for actions beyond the playing field, or will they stay loyal?