Hajime Moriyasu has got the best out of a squad with a number of young players as the Blue Samurai aim to win their fifth Asian Cup title.
Let’s be completely open here. Amongst all the big Asian giants that were participating in the AFC Asian Cup, Japan were the last side that were expected to reach the final. The likes of Australia, South Korea and Iran were considered to have better chances of making it to the ultimate showdown, due to the evident depth and experience within their ranks.
But, the youngsters in the new-look Japanese side have shown that they can handle the responsibility with maturity, as the Blue Samurai marched rather unflinchingly into the showpiece, seeing off the likes of Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Iran on the way.
Watch: Iran 0-3 Japan, Goals and Highlights
But now, as they face the last obstacle between themselves and the coveted title, Japan will have to keep in mind the mistakes of the past. That fateful night in Russia where they chased a win and ended up being on the wrong side of the scoreline. The Belgians ran away celebrating their victory after a gruelling 90 minutes. In what was a disastrous twist of fate, Japan let a two-goal lead slip away in a 3-2 loss.
The crucial juncture of the game came when Japan got a corner while the score was 2-2 and the Blue Samurai send most of their men up front hoping to snatch a victory late into the game. But Belgium’s fiery counter attack utilised the big gaps in the opposition defense and destroyed Japanese hearts.
When Hajime Moriyasu’s side gears up for the final test, he will have that episode firmly implanted in his head. In Qatar, Japan face a side that is riding high on confidence, due to the fact they haven’t conceded a single goal in the tournament. Their solid defence has been a crucial part of their success. The backline soaks up the pressure, before setting the pacy and energetic attack free, allowing them to exploit the retreating opposition back four. The Qatari attack has thrived with purpose in this approach, with Almoez Ali benefitting the most with his eight goals at the event so far.
The Blue Samurai have the likes of Yoshida with lots of experience
When up against a side that has serious pace and explosiveness, the Japanese head coach will need to make a call. So far, in this tournament, Japan have managed to stick to their philosophy while pursuing victory. Against the Maroons, a team that specializes in quick incisive counter-attacks, the Blue Samurai will need to be careful. They will need to put enough emphasis on their defence and carry out their gameplan efficiently.
Whenever, they have been up against teams that value keeping the ball, Japan have been comfortable. Moriyasu has fashioned a side that has great physical attributes, to go with their technical skills. In the semi-final against Iran, the Blue Samurai were forced to defend for large periods of time, but they displayed their flexibility by approaching Iran with a well-thought-out counter-attacking plan.
With a squad full of experience and freshness, Japan will be aiming to go full throttle against Qatar
However, Qatar are a different animal altogether. The Maroons have shown real adaptability, eking out wins in the quarterfinal and semi-final despite several of their starters suspended. If Iran was a tactical battle, Qatar in all likelihood, will be a mental one.
Felix Sanchez has been near flawless in his choices on the field and Moriyasu will need his team to be at their very best if they are to get the result. With Qatar, giving less emphasis on the ball, Japan’s attack will need to properly utilize the gaps, every time they move forward. In short, the Blue Samurai will need to move the ball with intent and purpose.
Despite the success they have enjoyed, the young Japanese squad will need to focus on the task at hand and not get carried away. Any lapse in concentration could see another horrific night similar in stature to the loss against Belgium in Russia. The East Asian side are the favourites to win this tie, but Qatar have proven time and again, that the tag ‘favourites’ is just a label. Thus, nothing short of their absolute best will suffice for Moriyasu and his men.