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Japanese still bruised after Elephant stampede leads to 2-1 weekend loss

TOKYO -- Japan's defeat by Ivory Coast in their World Cup opener has sparked a flood of recriminations, with former captain Hidetoshi Nakata ripping into the Blue Samurai after their 2-1 weekend loss.

“They need to go away and think about what kind of football they're trying to play,” Nakata said in his role as an analyst for Japan's NHK Television.

“I couldn't see at all what kind of football they were striving for.”

The rumblings of discontent among Japan's players were equally unmistakable as they prepared for their must-win Group C game against Greece on Thursday.

Captain Makoto Hasebe, whose removal from the fray early in the second half proved pivotal as Japan surrendered a one-goal lead against the Elephants, called the team's performance “gutless.”

Hasebe, only recently returned to fitness after knee surgery, told Japanese media he had not known he would be substituted after only 54 minutes.

“It's the coach's decision,” sniffed Hasebe, whose substitution, along with the introduction of Ivorian talisman Didier Drogba, quickly changed the complexion of the game.

Keisuke Honda, who again faded badly in the second half after firing Japan ahead in the 16th minute, insisted Japan had picked themselves up after their setback in Recife.

“We've got it out of our system,” said Honda, who before the tournament denied speculation he had undergone thyroid surgery after training with a band-aid over his lower throat.

“Losing wasn't what was shocking, it was not being able to play to our strengths.

“The best characteristics of the Japanese turned against us. We're a diligent side and when we started trying too hard it destroyed us.”

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has faced questions over his decision to replace Hasebe with Yasuhito Endo when the match was so delicately poised.

“The coach carries the responsibility for defeat,” said the Italian. “We're upset we couldn't get into our rhythm.

“I will analyse how I can change things when things start going against us. But I do have confidence we will respond against Greece.”

Japan, who reached the last 16 of the World Cup four years ago, had been set a quarter-final target by the country's soccer chief Kuniya Daini.

Playmaker Shinji Kagawa, who has been criticized for an anemic display in his World Cup debut, admitted Japan would now have to take risks against Greece.

“We weren't aggressive enough,” he said. “We were never really in control of the game. Greece will attack us because they lost too (to Colombia). We have no option but to attack.”

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