Japan’s unsatisfying, but triumphant performance in a final World Cup warm-up match left coach Alberto Zaccheroni looking for answers barely a week before his team’s opener in Brazil.
A stoppage-time goal by reserve Yoshito Okubo gave the Asian champions a 4-3 victory over Zambia on Friday, but raised more issues than it solved.
“Even though we won I’m not satisfied with the game,” Zaccheroni said through a translator. “I’m not focused on the result. We found some issues that we didn’t show before. We have to overcome those issues so our team can get better.”
And the Blue Samurai do not have long to do it. They were scheduled to fly to Brazil yesterday, a week before they are to open World Cup play against Ivory Coast, with Group C matches against Greece and Colombia to follow.
“I’m not satisfied with our intensity,” said Zaccheroni, an Italian. “But low intensity does not mean you are not motivated. I have to think about other methods to improve the players’ intensity. Intensity is not the only factor we have to look at to improve before the World Cup.”
Zambia captain Christopher Katongo scored in the ninth minute and Nathan Sinkala made it 2-0 in the 29th.
“The first two goals we gave Zambia were too easy,” Zaccheroni said. “We couldn’t implement our game plan, especially in the first half. We have to focus more on our defense for the World Cup.”
Japan battled back to take the lead, with AC Milan striker Keisuke Honda scoring on a penalty-kick in the 40th minute, Manchester United forward Shinji Kagawa equalizing in the 73rd and Honda netting the go-ahead goal in the 75th.
However, Zambian teen reserve midfielder Lubambo Musonda scored in the 89th minute and only when Okubo made a strong move off a long centering pass did Japan salvage a triumph and a perfect run in warm-ups after beating Costa Rica 3-1 and Cyprus 1-0.
“In the World Cup, we have to change our mindset and improve,” Zaccheroni said.
Patrice Beaumelle, the Frenchman who coaches Zambia, was impressed with Japan after his club nearly pulled off an upset.
“I think they are ready to play the World Cup,” Beaumelle said. “They work very well together. It’s like an engine you can switch on.”
Zambia’s game plan worked to perfection early, but could not produce a victory in the end.
“The target was to frustrate them and go to the last minute,” Beaumelle said. “I knew how to put trouble on them, play compact and stay forward when we get the ball. I knew it would be trouble for us to last the entire game.”
“They scored two goals very close together. They were able to play consistently for 90 minutes and plus. When they made substitutions they didn’t lose anything. They were able to keep playing to the end and that’s what I like about them,” he added.
In other international friendlies in preparation for the World Cup, Greece, backed by a partisan
crowd at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, scored once in each half to beat Bolivia 2-1 on Friday.
Meanwhile, Colombia converted two penalties in a 3-0 win over Jordan in Buenos Aires, Brazil, on Friday, but are sweating on a fitness report for injured midfielder Aldo Leao Ramirez.
The seasoned 33-year-old injured his knee during training at the team camp outside Buenos Aires and is a doubt for the tournament.
Additional reporting by staff writer