Sharjah: Two mistakes, two goals and Japan were well on their way to being eliminated from the 2013 Fifa U-17 World Cup by a meticulous Sweden on Monday.
However, Japan’s coach Hirofumi Yoshitake was more than pleased with the way his young squad has evolved over the past few months.
Yoshitake and his support team had scoured the length and breath of the country before choosing the best 200 players for a sustained training camp before narrowing down on the final squad of 21 players who made the trip to the UAE.
The entire process took a good 18 months, not adequate time for a grand exercise of this nature. But Yoshitake did well to get his team motivated into playing an attractive brand of football while putting themselves among the favourites for the title. However, they were brought down to earth by a calculated performance from Sweden.
Entering the knockout stages as one of two teams with an all-clear record of three wins, Japan failed to get past their European opponents falling to two goals from counter-attacks. Japan pulled one back eleven minutes into the second half but failed to penetrate the Swedish defence and to replicate their quarter-final performance in Mexico 2011.
“I believe we are on the right path. Losing one match is not an indicator that we have been following a wrong method or style. I certainly don’t have to change anything,” Yoshitake said.
“We can only make things better from here on as we don’t want this one defeat to alter anything that we have done so far,” he insisted.
In the bargain, Sweden created their own bit of history by entering the quarter-finals on debut in this competition, with Valmir Berisha opening the scoring in the eleventh minute and Gustav Engvall adding a second in the 36th to deny the swift-moving Japanese.
Yoshitake added: “We did all we could, but we needed two more goals from that stage if we were to win. But Sweden defended well. We need to learn to defend our goal just like Sweden did.”
The building of teams at grassroots level is very much part of the Japanese Football Association’s (JFA) long-term targets. As per the JFA blueprint, Japan needs to win the Fifa U-17 World Cup by 2040 and the Fifa World Cup by 2050. “So this experience of playing here will not be lost forever on these players. It can only benefit everyone, including Japanese football and the players themselves,” Yoshitake added.