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Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010

Okada escapes sack

JFA chief backs manager after East Asian debacle

Staff writer

Under-fire national team manager Takeshi Okada will lead Japan at the World Cup after surviving showdown talks with Japan Football Association president Motoaki Inukai on Monday.

News photo
Vote of confidence: Takeshi Okada will remain as national team manager after meeting with Japan Football Association president Motoaki Inukai on Monday. KYODO PHOTO

Okada brushed off calls to quit after a 3-1 loss against South Korea on Sunday condemned Japan to third place at the four-team East Asian Football Championship, but Monday's emergency meeting fueled speculation that Inukai would make the decision for him.

With only four months to go until the World Cup begins, however, the president granted Okada a stay of execution arguing that it is now too late to change direction.

"I know that the media is calling for Okada to be fired, but it is a big risk to make such a change to a team that has been three years in the making just because of one or two results," Inukai wrote on the JFA's official Web site. "I don't think it would improve the team only four months before the World Cup.

"We trust Okada and the direction he is taking us in, and it is best to leave him to get on with his work as he sees fit."

Okada had urged his players to use the regional competition in Tokyo as a springboard toward his target of reaching the World Cup semifinals. Instead he was forced to answer questions regarding his future after losing to the Koreans, scraping a scoreless draw with eventual winner China and making hard work of a 3-0 win over Hong Kong.

"The Japan Football Association are the ones who make that decision," Okada said when asked if he intended to resign after Sunday's game. "If my players are behind me I have no intention of giving up on them. I can't desert my players."

Polls showed 88 percent of the public wanted Okada out before the tournament begins in South Africa, with 97 percent sure Japan will fail to get past the first round.

Okada was lambasted for sticking by under-performing regulars throughout the East Asian competition, but the manager defended his selection on Sunday and rejected calls for wholesale changes to his squad.

"There is no magic wand that I can wave to change all the players," he said. "They have all played well in the past and they can't be at their best all the time. If we bring in a couple of extra players and the players from Europe then we can move forward.

"I thought that my players would get back into their rhythm quicker than they did. I have to consider my shortcomings from this tournament, but I'm not about to rip up the whole team."

Okada also held firm on his target of reaching the semifinals in South Africa and refused to entertain suggestions that the ambitious goal is unsettling his players.

"I have no plan to change the target," he said. "I don't think it puts any pressure on the players or the staff because we are all working hard to meet the challenge and make it come true. As long as there is a chance of it happening we will continue to pursue that goal."

Okada believes the poor results will ultimately serve a useful purpose in the countdown to the World Cup, and called on his players to learn from the experience.

"The players were motivated to do well and a lot of them did do well," he said. "They never gave up and that made me very happy to see. They never lost their fighting spirit.

"But rather than denting their confidence, I think this result will prove to be useful for the team. When everything is going too smoothly you take your eye off the ball. This was a good simulation of how things will be at the World Cup. It was good preparation."

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