Mediocrity is Better than Failure (?)
Japan came out of the match with "perennial rivals" Australia - who have always lived in the shadow of the Rising Sun when it comes to football - with a draw and, while many of us out there would have been happy with this pre-match, having seen the game, and as manager Halilhodzic said in interviews immediately after the match - it was most definitely two points lost, not one gained.
Japan started at a pace that unsettled their opponents and, as we saw, a superb one touch pass chain from Makoto Hasebe, to Keisuke Honda, through to Genki Haraguchi, created a chance for the German-based, former Urawa Reds man to slip it past the helpless 'keeper to give Japan an early lead.
Japan then pressed and harried their opponents into hurried passes or difficult situations - with Yu Kobayashi and Shinji Kagawa, in particular, causing problems for the defenders looking for the pass. Kobayashi did little else in the game, until his superbly saved, textbook downward header later in the game - and has seen some negative Social media to that effect - but his off the ball running and pressing was all that could have been asked of him when Japan were looking for the ball.
Haraguchi himself, to my mind, was having a rough half, giving the ball away, trying too much, but you can't argue - really, can you? - with a player who scores! With Takashi Usami and Yoshinobu Muto missing injured, too, he is making that left side spot his own? The second half was a different story for Haraguchi as he seemed to hold the ball more, make less passes astray, and beat his man with ease - a late surge down the left to cross for substitute Takumi Asano almost resulted in a goal, but, yet again in the national team shirt, Asano failed at the final hurdle. Asano, in fact, to digress away from Haraguchi for a moment, failed to touch the ball "in play" - being pulled up twice for offside when a better-timed run would have had defenders trailing in his wake and the flag staying at the side of the Assistant Referee! Not good enough, Asano!
Back to Genki... earlier in the game he had been pulled up for two fouls in which he claimed to use his shoulder. One of these "fouls" was, in fact, a perfect shoulder charge (in the eyes of this writer), so, with even legal charges being penalised, Haraguchi really should have known better than to go charging in to the big centre forward - Tomi Juric - who had already been collapsing at every touch (and continued to do so after). No excuse, and Haraguchi knew it.
Looking at the rest of the team,playing Honda up front, alone DOES work reasonably well with the players that Japan has available. With a plethora of "diminutive" (or at least not big) attacking midfielders to choose from (let's face it, Usami, Muto were missing, Hiroshi Kiyotake was on the bench, Manabu Saito was there for the ride, only, sadly, and the likes of Gamba Osaka's Shu Kurata among many others on the edges of selection, there ARE plenty to choose from), almost any of these players could be the man upfront (not forgetting Shinji Okazaki, of course) in front of three hard-running creative players. IF Japan are not to go for the likes of (194cm) Mike Havenaar or Yohei Toyoda (ie. a slighly different style, "big man" centre forward) a three man support team for any one of six or seven eligible lads is the way to go.
So, Honda, well, he created the goal, he had a shot that could have been the second but was straight at the lucky 'keeper who was almost going the other way, he hustled a little (but not as much as the three men behind him,but that's not his job?) and Halilhodzic did replace him (a correct decision, in my opinion, although about ten minutes earlier would have been nice!), showing he's not THAT favoured that he won't be taken off. Earned his place in the next match.
Shinji Kagawa - this was a surprise (mostly unwelcome on social media comments), especially after Kiyotake was THE man of the match against Iraq. Playing Kagwa - and NOT taking him off - could very well be a master stroke by the manager. What? Yes, a player can be psychologically scarred by not playing, or being taken off, especially when he is deemed to be struggling. Kagawa, hassled and hustled, made some excellent passes, kept possession with some nice trickery now and again, and robbed opponents or intercepted passes on more than one occasion. I was happy with his input.
Makoto Hasebe - as captain - was everywhere, influencing the defence, snuffing out attacks, creating chances (see the goal, or that superb cross field first time pass to Haraguchi that, if I remember correctly, resulted in the Honda chance). He played a cpatian's role. he played a defensive midfielder's role. Nice one, son!
Hotaru Yamaguchi, alongside his captain got a lot of flak pre-match, as did Halilhodzic, for choosing a player in J2! This player scored the vital winner last match out, and is J2 September MVP. Well done Hali, for not listening to the critics and playing your own man. Is there anyone else ready for that spot? Gaku Shibasaki has proved time and again that he is too timid or overawed in the national team. Yasuhito Endo and Yasuyuki Konno are now settled into J1 work with Gamba, and nothing more (though Shu Kurata - yes, he gets another mention - has been excellent at defensive midfield when he has played there). O(h)shima and Nagaki (who? Said many Samurai Blue watchers) are not ready for the top team yet, although I like the fact that Halil gives some experience of being around the squad to youngsters (but what about Shoya Nakajima and, for sure, the future of Japan's goalkeeping for a decade or more - Kosuke Nakamura?). So, Yamaguchi gets the nod, and deserves it until someone else proves they do?
Moving back into defence, it seemed that Maya Yoshida and Masato Morishige did little wrong - or did they just have little to do (the result of the DMF duo, and the attacking MF trio doing their jobs) and, while some of us call for a little more bite (but Tulio? Please!) at the back, in some form or another - who would you have Halilhodzic select? Daiki Niwa had a look-in before a badly-timed injury took him out of the reckoning, but he's back and has that touch of "malicia" about him, as well as being a noisy bugger! The U-23 boys - Iwanami, Nara and Ueda - could be given a chance but need a leader next to them and I don't see Yoshida or Morishige as real leaders. Your thoughts?
As for the full backs, Gotoku Sakai did his attacking well, was ready to receive the ball, got into space, made some nice passes, closed his man down when he had to. I'll give him a pass for the next match, too.
On the other side of the field, Tomoaki Makino. What can you say about a man who wears odd boots, Adidas, just to be like the Puma guys, who were all part of a promotional campaign?! Sad, attention-seeking man that he is - and, of course, over-reacting cheat in J.League - and the only man who actually hurts a player with his solidly-gelled hair when they clash. he did enough to nullify an attack or two - though most of the action seemed on the other side or in midfield. he even got a shot off, but I'd welcome Yuto Nagatomo back with open legs. Koki Yonekura, too. Perhaps even Kosuke Ota. over Makino any day.
In goal - as we work our way all the way to the back - Shusaku Nishikawa was hardly tested at all. The most pressure he felt was when he took back-passes and almost took too long on the ball two or three times! He'll be caught one day! IF he's going to start every game, and if Eiji Kawashima is not playing in his league team, then please, let's bring in Nakamura, at least to get some experience in the squad!
So, in conclusion, a reasonable result - a point away at a team that thinks they're your biggest rivals (Aussie-baiting phrase for effect!) - is not to be sneezed at (bless you) but it could easily have been a win with a little more luck, or perhaps some earlier changes by the boss? No one played really badly, yet no one really excelled. Can one argue with an all-round decent performance in the end?