Earlier this week, the Japan National Football Team, led by their Mexican Coach Javier Aguirre, faced the United Arab Emirates in the quarter-finals of the 2015 Asian Cup. Japan were the heavy favorites to win this quarter-final matchup, and their status as favorites was hardly surprising to anyone, considering they have well-known players such as Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and the in-form Maya Yosidha.
Yet, it was two of these three star players that failed to hit the target during the penalty shootout that closed the match. Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda let down both their supporters and their manager in what had been, until that point, one of the best performances Japan has had with its new manager. Aguirre's side managed to take 32 shots during the game, but they were only able to score one goal. As a result, the match continued into extra-time and an an eventual penalty shootout. Unfortunately for fans of the Japan National Team, they won't see their team make it to the finals for a second time in a row - this time being held in Australia. In Japan's place, UAE advance to face the home team (Australia) in the semi-finals to be held on the 27th of January. The champions of the last edition of the Asian Cup will go home saddened by the fact that they truly did fall short of expectations.
Looking at the bigger picture, Japanese and Mexican fans alike may well be asking right now how much of Japan's below-par performance is due to Javier Aguirre's leadership. Regardless of where you fall on that issue, Japan's loss could potentially be seen as a loss for prospective Mexican coaches abroad. As one of the few high-profile Mexican coaches abroad, for better or worse Aguirre's performances could have a negative (or positive) effect for Mexicans that want to be seen as credible in managerial seats.
Indeed, there are very few Mexicans coaching the "beautiful game" internationally. People were surprised when Aguirre left his post at Espanyol and made a return to international soccer in 2014. Instead of coaching the Mexican National team again (as he has only been associated with the Mexican National side in the past), he ventured into East Asian waters. Japan appointed Javier Aguirre as their new head coach back in July, after a dismal display at the 2014 World Cup. The Japan Football Association hoped that Aguirre could turn the team's fortunes around, but instead disappointing performances continue for the Samurai Blues. Nevertheless, "El Vasco" Aguirre has been a trailblazer for Mexicans coaching internationally. He began his coaching career in 1995 at Atlante.
Afterwards, his managerial career would take him back and forth between Mexico and Spain. At the international level, he had two coaching opportunities with "El Tri." He first coached Mexico in 2001 at the Copa America, leading El Tri to a 1-0 loss in the final against Colombia. A Round of 16 exit followed in the 2002 edition of the World Cup. Then, after a 7 year hiatus from Mexico, he came back to his roots to lead Mexico to the 2009 Gold Cup, and afterwards, another Round of 16 exit at the 2010 World Cup. In between these experiences with the Mexican National Team, he managed several Spanish Clubs in La Liga. These teams include: Osasuna, Atletico Madrid, Real Zaragoza and RCD Espanyol. As is obvious, the 56-year-old has plenty of experience in both international and domestic campaigns. Most recently, he coached at Espanyol during the 2013-2014 campaign , finishing in 14th place. While Aguirre's most recent Asian adventure has been a disappointing one, the former El Tri coach isn't completely to blame. The Japan National Football Team has been performing poorly since the 2014 World Cup, and this is Aguirre's first experience not working within a Spanish-speaking culture. Not to mention that a match-fixing scandal also followed Aguirre to Japan, which has likely been a distraction (justly or not remains to be seen).
For now, we should regard this latest loss as a blip in Aguirre's career - though it is likely his only hope for redemption is to stay with the Samurai Blues and prove himself in 2018 World Cup Qualifying.
And it appears Aguirre intends to do just that. After the loss to United Arab Emirates, he said, "We showed a fighting mentality today. We need to keep this attitude in the future.
It sounds like he hopes to continue in his position and, hopefully for other Mexicans seeking manegial positions abroad, success comes soon for El Vasco.
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