Confidence was key, says coach of Blue Samurai

0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, January 27, 2011
Adjust font size:

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has saluted his players' nerve and the reflexes of goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima after they beat South Korea 3-0 on penalties to reach the final of the Asian Cup.

The Blue Samurai, who are gunning for a record fourth continental title, had been leading 2-1 with a minute to play in extra-time on Tuesday, before Hwang Jae-won lashed home a dramatic equalizer to take the game to a shoot-out.

It was Japan which held its nerve from 12 yards, however, with Yuto Nagatomo the only Japanese player who failed to find the net as Zaccheroni's side swept into Saturday's final against Australia.

Kawashima had been criticized for a wobbly display in the 3-2 quarterfinal win over Qatar, but he stepped up to the mark by saving penalties from South Korean pair Koo Ja-cheol and Lee Jong-rae, with Hong Jeong-ho shooting wide.

"Before the penalties I told the players to forget the goal we conceded at the end. I told them to take their penalties with confidence," said Zaccheroni.

"There are no goalkeepers who don't make mistakes. They don't exist.

"A few days ago I told Kawashima that I have faith in him, and I told him the same thing on Tuesday. He did more than I expected."

Kawashima said he was simply doing his job.

"Over 120 minutes, every player worked really hard so I was thinking that when it came to penalties, it was going to be my time to work," the 27-year-old Lierse goalkeeper told the tournament website.

"I saw that everybody's head was down and the atmosphere was a bit strange because we had conceded the goal so close to the end of the game. But I knew it was not finished so I just focussed on the penalties."

Keisuke Honda put Japan 1-0 up in the shootout, despite having seen a penalty early in extra-time saved by South Korea goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong.

His blushes were saved on that occasion when substitute Hajime Hosogai reacted sharply to thrash home the rebound and put Japan 2-1 up, but the CSKA Moscow playmaker admitted he was relieved to find the net in the shootout.

"Everyone can mis-hit a penalty. But I was determined to put it away when I took the first kick in the shootout. I was glad it went in," Honda said.

"The result is all that counts. And it made me feel that I've still got what it takes."

Honda, the man of the match, praised Zaccheroni for instilling confidence in him but said the team's victory would count for nothing if it did not follow it up by prevailing in the final.

"I think we conceded the (last) goal due to our lack of freshness," said Honda.

"But we out-fought South Korea in the penalties in such a tough situation and this match showed everyone that we have grown so much in this tournament.

"Every match has been very tough and we have come through some close battles. We have come this far and it won't mean anything if we don't come home with the trophy."

South Korea coach Cho Kwang-rae had queried the decision to award Japan's extra-time penalty, with the referee originally awarding a free-kick on the edge of the box before changing his mind, and Zaccheroni sympathized.

"I don't usually like to talk about the referee's judgement," said the Italian. "But both the penalty for Korea (in the first half) and the penalty for Japan, I don't think they were fair decisions."

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comments

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from