TOKYO - Even though Japan has qualified for the World Cup, Alberto Zaccheroni's team has come under criticism at home for its lacklustre play less than a year out from Brazil.
Japan has conceded 19 goals over the last seven matches starting with the Confederations Cup in June, when Japan lost its three group matches to Brazil, Italy and Mexico.
Once considered a strength, defensive play has suddenly become a liability for Japan. Last month in a friendly at home, it was humbled 4-2 at the hands of South American champion Uruguay.
"If they keep playing this style they will continue to lose," football analyst Sergio Echigo wrote in a column for Nikkansports after the loss to Uruguay.
Since being hired in 2010, Zaccheroni has enjoyed a mostly successful run that included winning the Asian Cup and a comfortable qualifying campaign to the 2014 World Cup, but recent results have increased scrutiny.
"Giving up goals has become the major issue for us," defender Maya Yoshida said. "We have to play more of a system and not leave ourselves exposed to one-on-one situations. Conceding no goals should be the objective in every game."
Due to a lack of scoring, Japan has been forced to play a more attacking style but that has left the team exposed in their end of the pitch.
Zaccheroni refuses to blame his defenders but says his players need to take a more balanced approach.
"I tell our players to play in a compact manner and have courage and balance in mind in order to keep our attacking power," Zaccheroni said. "We lost our composure at the Confederations Cup but it was a problem of the entire team rather than one position."
Japan surprised many at the 2010 World Cup by advancing past the group stage with wins over Cameroon and Denmark before losing on penalties to Paraguay in the knockout stage.
Expectations for Japan are higher and the team is being called upon to fare better against the world's top teams. A first- or second-round exit in Brazil would be viewed as a disappointment given all the time, money and effort that has gone into football in Japan.
The Asian champion coasted past Guatemala 3-0 on Friday but the result didn't leave Zaccheroni satisfied.
"We should have done much better against Guatemala," the Italian said.
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