TOKYO (AFP) – Japan face Australia on Tuesday for a last tango in Osaka before the gloves come off for a potential Asian Cup dust-up in January.
But for Japan coach Javier Aguirre, still fumbling to find the right formula after three months in charge, there will be added pressure to beat the Socceroos following a poor run of form, rather than just go through the motions in the team’s final match of 2014.
The Blue Samurai, who beat Australia in the 2011 Asian Cup final, battered Honduras 6-0 on Friday to relieve some of the pressure on Aguirre, although the way the visitors rolled over in Toyota was little short of embarrassing.
The 55-year-old, who led Mexico to the last 16 of the 2002 and 2010 World Cups, was forced to bring back Japan’s record caps holder Yasuhito Endo and coax right-back Atsuto Uchida out of international retirement after his tinkering had failed to achieve the desired effect.
He also gave the captain’s armband back to Makoto Hasebe, who told reporters: “The coach wanted to bring back the old guard but warned us he wouldn’t tolerate any silly mistakes from us because of the experience we have collectively.”
Aguirre’s tough words are not without irony given some of the bizarre selections and tactics he has adopted since taking over from Italian Alberto Zaccheroni after the World Cup.
Japan had won just once in four matches under Aguirre before taking apart Honduras – a fortuitous 1-0 victory over Jamaica – and were humiliated by Brazil last month when Neymar ran riot, scoring all four goals in a 4-0 demolition.
Australia, who host the Asian Cup which begins on January 9, will provide a far sterner test for Japan than Honduras.
“Nothing will get in the way of building what we need to over the next period,” Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou told local media. “We want to be successful in the Asian Cup and beyond.”
Japan flopped at the World Cup, talisman Keisuke Honda tearfully slamming the team’s performances as “pathetic”, yet little has improved under Aguirre.
The former Espanyol manager, pocketing a record salary for a Japan coach of around $2.5 million a year, has faced criticism over revamping the squad – a decision which has clearly backfired.
Endo, who has now made 147 appearances for Japan, was discarded after the World Cup debacle but the side looked far more balanced with him restored to the side against Honduras.
“We’ve trained well and hopefully now we can push on and build on this win for the Australia game,” he said. “Beating them would give us a real boost going into the Asian Cup.”