March 29, 2008: One short comment from Bahrain's head coach, Milan Macala, said it all: "Japan had nothing."
Ouch! That hurts, doesn't it, coming from the Gulf veteran who knows Japanese football so well from his previous engagements.
But it was a fair assessment on Wednesday night, when Japan lost 1-0 in Bahrain to put themselves under a bit of pressure for the four-game group finale in June.
Japan looked slow and weary and lacked leadership and experience, particularly in the middle of the park. With Bahrain quick to press the man in possession, Japan could not get hold of the game or find any rhythm.
Even so, the "nothing" as stated by Macala looked like it was going to be good enough to get "something" -- meaning a point from a 0-0 draw -- until the blunder by Kawaguchi 13 minutes from time. Bahrain accepted the gift and no one could argue with the final result.
For all their lack of control and creativity, Japan could still have snatched one at the other end on two occasions in the second half.
Before Bahrain's goal, Okubo failed to connect with a superb Komano cross from the right, and after Bahrain's goal Abe did the same. These were two great heading opportunities that went begging, and it points to a lack of confidence rather than technique.
I wonder if the poor performance and result led to the low turnout (12,718) at National Stadium for the Japan Under 23-Angola friendly the following evening?
Those who did attend at least saw some energy and ambition from the Japan team in the face of a big, strong opponent.
Once again I was particularly impressed with the central midfield pairing of Hosogai and Toshihiro Aoyama, and they must have gone a long way towards securing a place in coach Sorimachi's 18-strong squad for Beijing.
They chase and they scrap, and keep the team ticking over with their ability to win the ball and move it on to the more creative, attacking players around them. In the closing stages, Hosogai played like Tulio in disguise with his swashbuckling efforts in the opposition box.
It is a pity Japan could not hold on for the win, but at least they could leave the field with their heads held high and the supporters feeling some pride.
This was not the case in Bahrain the previous night.