TAKESHI Okada said last month that he would step down as Japan coach after the World Cup. “I’ll be a farmer,” he said. “When it rains, I’ll read a book, and when it’s fine, I’ll work on the farm.”
It seems a somewhat fair-weather approach to farming – so it’s hard to imagine him producing enough to keep Tesco happy. Still, it should be a more relaxing lifestyle for a man who has had little but grief in preparation for the World Cup, but can exit the tournament with his head held high.
Long before Mark Lawrenson was lampooning Okada’s undemonstrative ways on the touchline – “he looks like a banker going off to buy some shares,” said Lawro during Japan’s win over Cameroon a fortnight ago – the coach had become a joke figure in his own country.
Things got so bad three months ago that Japanese FA president Motoaki Inukai, having publicly stated that it was too late to sack Okada, suggested instead that fans boo the team in order to motivate them to do better. They then suffered the embarrassment of losing to plucky little upstarts England late last month, one of four straight World Cup warm-up defeats.
And yet Japan have done OK at this World Cup. The turning point appears to have been Okada’s decision to relax – to a degree – the highly-disciplined regime he had imposed during the build-up to the tournament. It seems to have worked.
Okada’s suggestion that Japan could reach the semi-finals always looked far-fetched – but they very nearly reached the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. Instead, it was Paraguay who became first-timers in the last eight by holding their nerve in a penalty shoot-out.
Every World Cup contains at least one knockout stage game that contains less excitement than a microwaved lasagne. This was it. The shoot-out was everything, for there was nothing in the 120 minutes before it. (Both teams earn one point on the World Cup Gubbometer as a result, keeping Paraguay in with a shout of winning it.)
Japan’s stylish victory over Denmark last Thursday was perhaps a little misleading. They had laboured to an unexpected win over Cameroon in their opening match, and sought to frustrate against Holland in game two, only really starting to open up after going behind.
Okada’s style has always been one of discipline, although the Denmark game did show that talent such as Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo could express themselves within that framework. But it was the disciplined side of their game that dominated in Pretoria, and a Paraguay side who couldn’t score against New Zealand were always going to struggle to break them down.
What was surprising during the shoot-out was that Eiji Kawashima didn’t save any penalties. He had, after all, stopped one from Frank Lampard in Graz last month. But the longer the shoot-out went on, the less likely he looked to make a save, committing himself very early and going the wrong way for Oscar Cardozo’s winning spot-kick. Yuichi Komano’s solitary miss proved decisive.
Okada, watching as poker-faced as ever from the touchline, might have wondered if he should have shown more adventure. He can tell it to the crops now.
World Cup Gubbometer
1=. Algeria: 2 (CI: 2/3)
1=. Portugal: 2 (CI: 2/3)
3=. Japan: 2 (CI: 1/2)
3=. Paraguay: 2 (CI: 1/2)
5=. Cameroon: 1 (CI: 1/3)
5=. Ivory Coast: 1 (CI: 1/3)
5=. France: 1 (CI: 1/3)
5=. Honduras: 1 (CI: 1/3)
5=. New Zealand: 1 (CI: 1/3)
5=. Switzerland: 1 (CI: 1/3)
11=. Brazil: 1 (CI: 1/4)
11=. England: 1 (CI: 1/4)
11=. Slovakia: 1 (CI: 1/4)
11=. Uruguay: 1 (CI: 1/4)
15=. Everybody else: 0
(NB. Teams are awarded one point every time they take part in a game so mind-numbingly tedious that it would almost certainly have been last on Match of the Day had it been a Premier League fixture. Teams level on points will be separated by the Capello Index – the number of points divided by the number of games played.)