Striking riddle getting serious for Japan coach Zico
Tokyo, May 10: Japan coach Zico has often struggled to explain why his trigger-shy strikers seem to vanish into thin air during matches.
Frequently in the Brazilian's four years in charge, it has appeared as if his strike force had been sucked into another vortex or the victims of a body-snatching raid from space.
Zico was cursing his misfortune again after yesterday's 2-1 defeat by Bulgaria in a friendly in Osaka, but he could hardly put the blame on supernatural forces.
Japan's forwards, Keiji Tamada and Seiichiro Maki, both had solid games.
Maki scored a second-half equaliser to boost his claims for inclusion in the World Cup squad while Tamada's lightning pace was a constant threat.
But Japan's lack of a cutting edge in front of goal will be giving Zico serious concern just over a month before they take on Australia in their World Cup opener on June 12.
Substitute Hristo Yanev's injury-time free kick gave the Bulgarians all three points in the first game of the three-team Kirin Cup tournament.
''That was a slap in the face right at the end,'' said Zico.
''We didn't deserve that. But we didn't take our chances and they punished us.'' PHANTOM PENALTY Zico justifiably felt hard done by given his side's territorial dominance but complaining about phantom penalty claims did little to mask Japan's shortcomings.
The Asian champions play Scotland on Saturday in their last home game before leaving for Germany May 26. Another defeat could seriously damage morale.
Though Zico is a keen tinkerer, keeping faith with Maki and Tamada in Saitama looks the best option.
Maki celebrated his third goal in eight Japan appearances with a sheepish grin after substitute Alex's shot had ricocheted in off his calf but it may have earned him a ticket to Germany.
''It hit my right calf,'' shrugged Maki. ''It was nice to score but I'd liked to have scored a goal with a bit more impact. We've also ended up losing.'' Japan are drawn alongside holders Brazil, Croatia and Australia in Group F at the World Cup and Maki's height and physical presence could offer Zico something different.
With former Sampdoria striker Atsushi Yanagisawa recovering from a broken metatarsal and Yokohama's Tatsuhiko Kubo another worry, Maki's emergence could be a real silver lining.