Kashima Antlers coach Toninho Cerezo praised opponents FC Seoul following their dramatic late victory in Tuesday night’s AFC Champions League fixture, preventing the Japanese veterans from advancing to the Round of 16.
With the match knotted up at 2-2, Mauricio Molina’s stoppage time goal saw the K-League club finish second in Group H with nine points, also knocking out defending champion Western Sydney Wanderers as a result.
“Seoul fought to the very limit of the rules,” Cerezo said after the match. “I told my players to fight harder on the ball. [Seoul] played like their lives were on the line.”
The Brazilian coach went on to describe at length the difference between Japan’s “culture of compromise” and other countries which place a heavier emphasis on competition.
“You have young players who grow up in conflict, and they’re raised to not want to lose to the other team in their city,” he explained. “There’s an 8-10 year difference between players who learn the importance of winning and losing when they’re young and players who learn it when they turn professional.
“Japanese culture is wonderful because it emphasises compromise rather than the stronger side always winning. But because of that, there’s an aspect of fighting being discouraged, and players are reluctant to play physically.
“The J-League doesn’t have many players who are able to insert themselves between the ball and their opponent.”
Cerezo’s comments are the latest in the ongoing debate over Japan’s struggles in the continental competition. Many, including recently-appointed Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic, have bemoaned the country’s emphasis on technical ability over physicality.
“It’s been like this for many years,” he continued. “Most high school and university players don’t know how to head the ball. They’re not prepared to win those air battles. My colleagues in South America and Europe all say that defenders should be taller than 183 centimetres; that’s something we have to look at as a club.
“We all have to work hard to raise the level of Japanese football.”