Suwon Bluewings striker Jong Tae-Se looked right at home on a Japanese pitch as his side fought to a 2-1 comeback win over Urawa Reds on Tuesday night in AFC Champions League action.
The North Korean international, born and raised in Nagoya before spending over four seasons with J-League side Kawasaki Frontale, spoke candidly after the match about Japanese teams’ struggles in the continental tournament.
“When I played in Japan,” the levels of [other Asian countries] weren’t very high,” Tae-Se reflected. “But they’ve improved in the last three or four years, while it feels like Japan have stagnated.
“Japanese players aren’t very strong on the ball, and they’re poor at sliding tackles. Even when defenders could cut off the attacker, they maintain their distance.
“Korean teams understand that if they’re strong on the ball, Japanese teams can’t do anything about it.”
The 31-year-old praised Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic’s recent comments on the state of J-League officiating, which has already led to an increase in dialogue between match commissioners and teams.
“After my Bundesliga matches I’d watch [J-League] games, and they weren’t able to play,” the former Bochum and Koln man said. “Japanese players are aware that referees will blow the whistle, so they’re used to falling down after just a little contact from behind.
“But if [Halilhodzic] says something about it, I think the culture will start to change.”