Japan lost 2-0 to Switzerland in a World Cup warmup match on Friday, six days before the start of the tournament in Russia.
Ricardo Rodriguez opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 42nd minute after Southampton defender Maya Yoshida fouled Schalke forward Breel Embolo inside the box at Stadium Cornaredo in the Swiss border city of Lugano.
Benfica forward Haris Seferovic sealed the victory from close range with eight minutes remaining.
The friendly was Japan’s second-last warmup before the tournament and just their second match under manager Akira Nishino, following a 2-0 loss to Ghana at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium on May 30.
With the team’s defensive formation under scrutiny following his deployment of a back-three against Ghana, former Japan Football Association technical director Nishino opted Friday for a four-man backline of Yoshida and Tomoaki Makino flanked by Yuto Nagatomo and Gotoku Sakai.
“In terms of going for the ball, it worked better than the Ghana game,” Urawa Reds center back Makino said. “We were able to move more naturally compared with the back-three.”
Despite ceding only a slight edge in terms of possession, Japan were blunt in attack and struggled to break down the Swiss defense.
(Keisuke Honda, 4, and Xherdan Shaqiri, 23, vie for the ball.)
Fortuna Dusseldorf’s Takashi Usami, one of a trio of attacking midfielders to start behind lone target man Yuya Osako, said the team needs to alter its approach to remedy its offensive stagnation.
“We won’t break out of it unless someone can create something. It can’t be done individually, but it’s not just a matter of combinations either,” Usami said.
Right back Hiroki Sakai, who suffered a right knee injury playing for Marseille in April, made his return as a 56th-minute substitute after missing the Ghana match.
“It was my first game in a while, but I was able to move better than I thought,” Sakai said.
The 28-year-old said he aims to be “100 percent” in time for Japan’s opening World Cup match against Group H opponents Colombia in Saransk on June 19.
Japan will play their final warmup game on Tuesday at their pre-World Cup base in Innsbruck, Austria, against Paraguay, who failed to qualify for the tournament. Japan’s 23-man squad has been holding a camp in the Austrian resort city since departing Japan a week ago.
Currently 61st in the FIFA rankings, the Samurai Blue will make their sixth straight World Cup appearance when the 32-team tournament kicks off on June 14.
Nishino was appointed head coach after the JFA stunned the soccer world by sacking his predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic in April, citing a breakdown in relations between the players and the Bosnian-born manager who successfully guided them through Asian qualification.
Friday’s victory completed an unbeaten warmup campaign for sixth-ranked Switzerland, who will be playing in their 11th World Cup in Group E against Brazil, Costa Rica and Serbia.
Japan will follow their opening fixture with a match against Senegal in Ekaterinburg on June 24 before playing their final group match against Poland in Volgograd on June 28.