Pressure on Japan ahead of Socceroo test

When a big tournament is just weeks away, a friendly between two teams regarded as favourites for the trophy, indeed the two finalists from four years ago, would often be expected to be a fairly gentle affair with neither wanting to give too much away. That won't be the case in Osaka.

Australia and Japan games are never gentle but this friendly has plenty riding on it regardless.

Australia may have won just two of the last eleven and be keen for a pick-me-up at the home of its biggest rival before hosting the AFC Asian Cup in less than two months but Japan, the competition holder, has issues of its own.

The champion has been stuttering for a while.

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The World Cup was hugely disappointing. There is no need to go over events in Brazil again but heading to South America confident of getting to the last 16, at least, but collecting just a single point, was a shock right out of the Samurai Blue.

What has happened since has failed to restore the feel-good factor and it is now just one win from the last seven. Honduras – a few days before the Socceroo game - provides a chance to improve that record but Australia is the big one.

Four games under Javier Aguirre have not gone the way the Japan FA hoped when it identified the tough-talking tactician as the right man to take the team to the next level.

One reason the Mexican got the job was his perceived ability to instil some fighting spirit into the team that has plenty of talent but was unable to show it on the world stage when it really matter.

Japan often struggles against South American opposition so perhaps arranging three tests from that continent was dicing with danger.

A first game ended in deserved defeat at the hands of Uruguay. Then came a 2-2 draw with Venezuela – a game in which the bright spots in attack were negated by more defensive mistakes. Then in October, an insipid 1-0 win over Jamaica, courtesy of an early own goal, did not excite and then came a 4-0 loss to Brazil in Singapore that was as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests.

Instead of displaying a new found fighting spirit, Japan, who seemed a little confused under Alberto Zaccheroni at the World Cup, has seemed lacklustre under the Mexican.

While it is to be expected that the two-time El Tri boss is searching for his best team and has been experimenting, the East Asian giant has looked slow and predictable and lacking in intensity.

This had led to growing pressure on the new man. Not that his job is in any immediate danger (though heading to Mexico earlier this week to collect an award and miss two days training was well-discussed by the Tokyo media) but the JFA is, according to reports, to request closer contact with the coach to receive explanation about team selection and team direction.

The decision to leave Keisuke Honda, the team's attacking talisman and in great form for AC Milan, on the bench for the first half against Brazil, did not go down well.

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As always, it comes down to results. Had Japan got a result against the five-time World champions, a young team and a brave selection would have been hailed.

When you go with youth and lose heavily after a string of indifferent performances, then at least you need some positives to take from the game but at the end of the 90 minutes, Aguirre was struggling to come up with anything – much like his team.

The medium to long-term football mood of Japan depends on the Asian Cup but until then, much of it will be determined what happens in those 90 minutes in Osaka.

The Socceroos play Japan on Tuesday 18th November in what will be their last hitout before Australia hosts the Asian Cup in January.

The match will be broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS 505 (FOX SPORTS 4HD & 4) from 9.00pm (AEDT).

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