Japan keeper shell-shocked by late blitz

June 12, 2006

KAISERSLAUTERN, June 12 (Reuters) - Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was shell-shocked after a 3-1 defeat by Australia in their World Cup opener on Monday.

GettyImagesAtasushi Yanagisawa suffers a blow

So often Japan's hero at major tournaments, Kawaguchi wore a haunted look after Australia scored three goals in the last eight minutes to take three points from the Group F clash.

'It's a massive shock,' a dejected Kawaguchi told reporters. 'We were in control and then suddenly we lost concentration and went to pieces.'

Kawaguchi made a string of outstanding saves to keep Australia at bay, most notably producing a superb double block from striker Mark Viduka early on.

But two late goals from Tim Cahill and a stoppage-time third from John Aloisi undid Kawaguchi's good work after Japan had gone ahead through Shunsuke Nakamura's disputed 24th-minute goal when Australia keeper Mark Schwarzer seemed to be impeded.

'We made silly mistakes at the end,' said Kawaguchi, who played a major role in Japan's Asian Cup triumphs in 2000 and 2004. 'Nobody likes to lose but to lose like that hurts.'

Japan face Croatia on Sunday before taking on holders and red-hot favourites Brazil in their final group game.

'I don't know what psychological damage today's defeat will have on us,' shrugged Kawaguchi, who had been a strong candidate for man of the match until Cahill struck.

'We have five days to prepare for Croatia. We must bounce back quickly or we're out.'

Kawaguchi refused to blame Japan's sudden collapse to the stamina-sapping heat in Kaiserslautern.

'It was hot but it was the same for both teams,' said the 30-year-old. 'Australia were maybe a bit stronger mentally than us.'

He added: 'We were getting very tired at the end and that's why we were giving away fouls in dangerous positions late on.'

However, the defiant keeper pledged that Japan were not thinking about making their World Cup exit just yet.

'What happened today happened,' he said. 'There's no point crying about it. Nothing's been decided yet. We will have to get it right against Croatia.'