Wednesday 08 June 2011

Kirin Cup: 3-4-3 but three bore draws

Fans in Japan have enjoyed precious little excitement over the past seven days after the 2011 Kirin Cup failed to produce even a single goal across 270 minutes of football.

Having kicked off the annual competition – which was cancelled last year due to the World Cup – with a goalless draw against Peru in Niigata last Wednesday, the Japanese national team played out a further frustrating stalemate with the Czech Republic in Yokohama yesterday evening.

With the two visiting nations also having drawn 0-0 in their weekend meeting at the Matsumoto Stadium, the tournament ended with the bizarre spectacle of all three teams being awarded the victors’ trophy to share between them.

This year’s Kirin Cup had already lost some of its significance following the Japan Football Association’s drawn-out decision to withdraw from next month’s Copa America in Argentina. However, this did at least allow Samurai Blue boss Alberto Zaccheroni the freedom to field an experimental line-up against Peru, before trying out his famous old 3-4-3 system on the first-choice players against the Czechs.

Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki flanked Tadanari Lee in attack, with Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo on the wings, and a three-man defence consisting of Masahiko Inoha, Maya Yoshida, and Yasuyuki Konno.

Superficially, the Japanese players appeared to struggle in their new system, with passes repeatedly going astray and few chances created despite dominating possession against an inexperienced Czech line-up marshalled superbly by goalkeeper Petr Cech. But Zaccheroni has previously acknowledged that his 3-4-3 is very difficult to learn and insisted again that he is not planning a radical overhaul of the team’s more conventional style.

“I feel we have achieved a reasonable grasp of our 4-2-3-1, but do still think that the 3-4-3 suits the characteristics of the Japanese players,” said the manager in his post-match press conference.

“However, the 3-4-3 is currently nothing more than an alternative option. If you use the same system and do the same things all the time, then the players will never grow, but trialling a 3-4-3 over these two matches has enabled them to grow to some extent. The formation can now be put on the back burner until it is needed again.”

- 19-year-old Takashi Usami missed out on a first full cap after watching both of Japan’s Kirin Cup matches from the bench, but the Gamba Osaka attacking midfielder still stole the headlines with news of an imminent transfer to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. A deal is expected to be concluded between the two clubs later this month, with Usami set for a year-long loan ahead of a reported €1.5 million permanent move.
- Vegalta Sendai maintained their unbeaten record this season with a 1-0 victory away to J1 leaders Kashiwa Reysol in the first round, first leg of the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. The competition has been restructured into a straight knockout this year following the 11 March earthquake.
- JEF United Chiba’s lead at the top of the second division has been cut to a point after Dwight Lodeweges’s side lost 3-1 at Thespa Kusatsu. Second-placed Shonan Bellmare won 1-0 away to FC Gifu.

2011 Kirin Cup results
Japan 0
-0 Peru
Peru 0-0 Czech Republic
Japan 0-0 Czech Republic

Yamazaki Nabisco Cup first round first leg results
Urawa Reds 2-0 Montedio Yamagata
Kashiwa Reysol 0-1 Vegalta Sendai
Yokohama F Marinos 1-1 Vissel Kobe
Ventforet Kofu 1-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Jubilo Iwata 2-0 Avispa Fukuoka
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-2 Kawasaki Frontale

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