TOKYO (May 28): As a player, Zico made his name as an attacking genius.
But on Friday night he showed he could defend a bit, too.
It's just a pity that his players couldn't defend properly during the match against the UAE, conceding the only goal of the game after being carved up in clinical fashion.
Zico was defending his team in general, and one player in particular, during the post-match news conference.
He even called for the media to show support for the team and encourage the players at this delicate time -- a tactic which smacks of desperation, and one which would have been ridiculed in a country with a deeper football culture. Brazil, for example.
One player was singled out for criticism in a question from the media.
A defender, maybe, such as Tsuboi, for allowing his forward to get behind him and score the goal?
Kawaguchi for being a little slow to get down to the weak shot, and for not quite covering the angle, so the ball could roll into the far corner?
No, it was Takayuki Suzuki, who, throughout his career, has provoked a wide spectrum of opinion on his qualities, or lack of them.
So I must take this opportunity to re-enforce my view of Suzuki.
At the moment, he is the best player to lead the forward line, and is a key member of the team due to his ability to shield the ball and drag defenders across the pitch, thereby creating space for his teammates to exploit.
Even though Suzuki was not in top form on Friday, Japan will need him against the big and robust Bahrain defenders.
I just wish he had Yoshito Okubo in support, but Zico resisted the temptation to recall the firebrand striker. I think this is a mistake by the coach, as, for reasons given in an earlier column, Okubo is different. He's a hungry, aggressive, lively goal scorer, but Zico appears to have abandoned him.
But I will not jump on the bandwagon to criticise Suzuki, because he has proved his value to the team time and again.
No one was criticising the new hero, Oguro, who missed an easy chance to equalise on Friday night, when putting a header wide to a cross from the right. But that miss won't worry Oguro, who will be back hunting for goals as soon as possible.
One thing everybody will agree on, and that's how crucial, and how difficult, Japan's match will be in Bahrain.