(Reuters) - Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni will begin an inquest into what went wrong with his Asian champions after their confident predictions of World Cup glory looked comical as they capitulated under tpressure against Ivory Coast.
Japan slumped to a 2-1 loss in their Group C clash in Recife on Saturday that left them with plenty of fixes required to make the knockout stages.
Zaccheroni said the inquest would begin at his door with his own goal of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time looking a tall order.
“I start with myself so I am going to ask myself what I should have done,” the Italian told reporters.
“I expected a different performance and I want to analyze what I did and I will speak to the players and find out if it is an issue of maturity or something else.”
Japan’s impressive intricate attacking play that gave them an early lead was abandoned for uncharacteristic long balls and dour defensive tactics.
Substitute striker Yoshito Okubo said the team panicked under pressure, giving the ball away carelessly and players in the wrong position unable to hear instructions from Zaccheroni.
“As a team, I didn’t think what we were doing was right. We were behind anyway so you might as well go for it. We were trying to defend too much,” Okubo told Japanese reporters.
”We started going long at the end but that’s not our style. Our feet stopped moving.
“We were confused about the positioning. We couldn’t hear what the manager was saying. (Shinji) Okazaki was moving to the left when he should have been on the right. We were panicking.”
The match had begun so well for the Asians as they controlled possession and pulled the Ivorians from side to side before a sublime strike by Keisuke Honda, who had talked up their chances of lifting the trophy in Brazil, in the 16th minute gave them a deserved lead.
But instead of pushing for a second they squandered possession and handed the incentive to the Africans, who scored twice in two minutes shortly after throwing on talismanic striker Didier Drogba for the final half hour to form a four man attack.
Only after the Ivorians had scored did Zaccheroni remove disappointing striker Yuya Osako but Okubo said his introduction came too late.
“It’s such a waste. If they go up 2-1, they were going to start to sit back so I wanted to get in when it was still 1-1.”
Attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa had an ineffectual game down the left and was also guilty of failing to track back and offer protection to fullback Yuto Nagatomo as both Ivorian goals came from crosses down his flank.
The playmaker, who has struggled for game time at Manchester United this season, said the Japanese had no other option but to attack Greece, who lost 3-0 to Colombia, in their next match on Thursday before they take on the South Americans.
“It really stings that we’re having to look back on our first game in this way,” he said.
”We obviously weren’t aggressive enough. We scored the first goal but I don’t think for one moment we were in control of the game.
Reporting by Patrick Johnston; editing by Justin Palmer