MELBOURNE - Japan playmaker Keisuke Honda has fired a volley at Asian Cup organisers over the tournament's punishing schedule, just days after being fined for slamming the standard of refereeing.
Honda scored his third goal in three games in Tuesday's 2-0 win over Jordan in Melbourne as the holders finished top of Group D and set up a quarter-final against the United Arab Emirates, celebrating with a military salute.
But Japan's spiky cult hero grumbled that the Blue Samurai would have a day less to prepare for Friday's game in Sydney than the Emirates.
"Two days is too short a recovery time," sniffed Honda, fined US$5,000 (S$6,693) for letting rip at the referee in Japan's 4-0 win over Palestine earlier in the competition.
"I don't agree with such a tough schedule. It's too much and it's a concern." Honda had been warned by Japan coach Javier Aguirre to bite his tongue after talking his way into fiscal trouble, but the player has been in sparkling form, taking games against Jordan and Iraq by the scruff of the neck.
"UAE are playing very well," warned the AC Milan midfielder. "I don't think they will fear Japan at all. Hopefully we can continue creating as many chances as we have been."
While Honda's explosiveness grabs the headlines, the Japanese players mobbed Shinji Kagawa after he broke a goal drought for his country dating back to last June by slamming home the team's second against Jordan.
The yin to Honda's yang, Kagawa has suffered an alarming dip in form for Japan since losing his place at Manchester United and subsequently returning to Borussia Dortmund - most notably at last year's World Cup.
"Honestly the best part about scoring was seeing how happy my team-mates were for me," said Kagawa, who had been so down in Brazil that left-back Yuto Nagatomo took him for a soapy heart-to-heart in a communal bath to help him out of the doldrums.
"But the most important thing is that the team won, not about me scoring. We have far tougher games coming up which we can't afford to lose, so the focus has to be about the team."
But Japan, who won a record fourth Asian Cup in 2011 by beating Australia in the final, will be increasingly looking to the vibrant Honda with a potential semi-final against the Socceroos looming.
"I'm pleased I reacted so well to stick that one away," said Honda after pouncing on a parried shot from Shinji Okazaki. "But we have to keep pushing and making sure we create those opportunities."