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Matsui fails to take his chance

16 Feb 2009(Mon)

February 14, 2009: With a point apiece from the goalless draw at Yokohama on Wednesday, Japan and Australia took another step on the road to South Africa 2010.

But one Japanese player in particular took a step back, and that was a big disappointment on a night of tension and, ultimately, frustration.

I am referring to Daisuke Matsui, who was the one surprise in Takeshi Okada's starting line-up, coming in on the left side at the expense of Yoshito Okubo.

The early signs were encouraging, as Matsui won the ball on the right wing and then won a free kick when he was brought down.

But after that he reverted to his old self -- too much showing off, too much over-elaboration and not enough substance at the end of all his possession.

This was the Matsui that really irritated Pim Verbeek when he was coach of Kyoto Sanga, and the Matsui I thought -- and hoped -- we had seen the last of.

I thought the modern, Euro version of Matsui was more mature, more disciplined, and played responsible, percentage football as opposed to circus football; that the days of Matsui the performing seal, producing another extravagant trick to draw gasps from the crowd, were thankfully at an end -- but Wednesday proved otherwise.

Of course Matsui has tremendous natural skill and balance, and has added a certain physical edge to his game during his time in France. If I could compare him to an English player I would be tempted to say he had the potential to be as effective as Peter Beardsley, whose craft and cunning around the box set up so many England goals for Gary Lineker.

But Matsui is now 27 -- 28 in May -- so it's too late to be talking about potential. He is at his peak, yet he won only his 14th cap against the Aussies; nowhere near enough for a player of his ability and creativity.

In the 57th minute, Okada had seen enough, and took off Matsui after he had lost the ball one too many times for his own good, and the good of the team.

Matsui had been given a big chance by Okada but had failed to take it, and this was a major disappointment and something of a surprise. I thought he was the real deal these days, but no.

For me, Endo produced the two best moments of the match, both from instinctive, first-time plays. The first was his superb strike at goal which needed an acrobatic save from Mark Schwarzer in the 70th minute; the second, shortly after, his delicious curling cross from the left wing to the back post. Pure class.

If only Japan had a striker who could think as quickly and execute as precisely as that...

ends

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