Japan vs Croatia: Zico’s biggest crux is the defence (Halftime: Japan 0 Croatia 0)

Japan meets Croatia in a Group F encounter in Nuremburg at 3:00 PM German time (12 Noon EST)
Japan lost the last match in the last 10 minutes against the inspired Socceroos led by sub Tim Cahill. They go up against Croatia who were quite unlucky in the last game against Brazil, playing magnificently but losing 1-0 to Kaka’s beauty.
Japan’s midfield is an EPL and Celtic League mix of both attack and defence led by Nidetoshi Nakata (Bolton Wanderers), Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic, Scotland), Junichi Inamoto (West Bromwich Albion). Zico probably had a bit of a tough time getting them to play the Brazilian system of overlapping attack and touch soccer as opposed to the more static system seen in the EPL. He seems to have done a pretty good job because the Japanese seemed to be coasting to a victory until the last 10 minutes when their defence had a meltdown.
Zico played in the Tele Santana days of el jogo bonito when the best form of defence was to attack. The Brazilian attack was beautiful to watch in 1982 and 1986 but they did not win the World Cup because of a series of defensive lapses.
This seems to be a recurrent theme in Zico’s career as a player and as a coach. Japan’s defence will have to contend with the dangerous Dado Prso and Nico Kovac. The Croats are an attacking team with Darijo Srna calling the plays and Nico Krancjar providing the attacking flair. The Croat team has been hit by charges of nepotism with the fans and the media calling on Zlatko Krancjar, the Croatian coach for keeping Nico his son on the team despite his indifferent form.
Soccerblog has the story on the Kranjcar’s contribution to Yugoslavian and Croatian soccer.
Update: Great save by the Japanese goalie, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi stopping a PK taken by Srna.

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