Can Qatar’s whirlwind attack find a way past impenetrable Japan?
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
It has been an impressive showing by the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts but getting over the final hurdle will be easier said than done.
Terming Qatar’s success in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 as an “underdog story” would be anything but fair. Despite going into multiple games with the tag, the manner in which The Maroons have shown ruthlessness, it’d be impossible for anyone not in the know to realize they weren’t favourites to win it.
Watch: Qatar 4-0 UAE, Goals and Highlights
However, after they sliced apart hosts UAE 4-0 in the semi-finals, everyone is finally taking Qatar seriously. Xavi’s prediction of them going all the way to win it was vehemently mocked by fans. But, after scoring fifteen goals in six matches and conceding none, nobody is mocking them anymore.
However, after making history in qualifying for their first-ever AFC Asian Cup final, Qatar’s resolve will be tested to the limit. The Maroons face Japan, a team who like them, have breezed past everyone they’ve faced. History and experience are on the Blue Samurai's side. Yet, the West Asians' persistence and youthful exuberance have floored everyone so far. Moreover, with both sides yet to concede a goal in the tournament, something has got to give.
Felix Sanchez will be wary of Japan’s discipline and defensive authority. The experienced Chilean needs to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the shopiece. The Blue Samurai's ability to read the game immaculately means that a static approach could soon be neutralized by them. In order to counter this, Qatar need to be just as clinical and intelligent in the final third.
By no means will the finale be an open affair. Despite both sides recording resounding victories in the semi-finals, one would need to outclass the other to register a similar feat in the big game. Against the UAE, The Maroons capitalized on a weak midfield and lack of pressing to hurt the hosts. A couple of lethal counter-attacks also resulted in late goals. Repeating a similar feat will be nearly impossible against the experience and stout shape of Japan.
However, if anyone can break down the impenetrable fortress of the Japanese, it’s The Maroons. With a firing front-four consisting of the perfect blend of experience and youth, Qatar hold an unpredictable edge in the striking department. However, they need to be clever when moving forward and make sure their moves don’t go to waste.
- Why Japan need to strike the right balance between attacking intent and pragmatism against potent Qatar
Rather than playing the long-ball method which was neutralized easily by Japan in the semi-finals Qatar need to keep things along the ground. Something they’ve thrived from in this tournament. They need to stitch together clever passes in and around midfield and work the ball into the final third. While Japan’s possession-based style and well-guarded midfield prohibit that, Qatar’s front-four needs to work in tandem to stretch the Blue Samurai’s defence.
If they can break their narrow shape and force the centre-backs to break their line, problems could arise for the Japanese. However, The Maroons need to be cautious defensively and make sure Japan don’t hit them on the counter. They need to tightly mark their dangerous front-two, while also keeping Ritsu Doan in check on the right.
The Qataris will have to rely on their strengths to overcome the Japanese test
Most importantly, Sanchez’s men have to be smart with their pressing. They might have the energy for days, but cannot compete with that of Japan. It was their dogged pressing which slowly drowned Iran and Qatar cannot afford that. The Maroons need to press when most needed and show no recklessness in order to frustrate Japan into making mistakes.
However, for them to break through their back four, striker Almoez Ali needs to be at his best. Flanked by Hasan Al Haydos and Karim Boudiaf, he needs to interchange positions and be clever with his movement to trick the Japanese.
The task is mighty for inaugural finalists Qatar. Many expect the mounting pressure of the situation to end their fairytale story. Yet, if their run so far has proven anything, it is that they could defy the odds once again to silence their doubters for good on Friday.
Published: Fri Feb 01, 2019 07:20 AM IST