“I will focus on the match against Indonesia and fight with all my might.”
Japan, led by head coach Moriyasu Hajime, will face Indonesia in the final Group D match of the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Qatar Asian Cup at Altumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, at 8:30 p.m. on the 24th (Korea time).
Moriyasu, who attended the official press conference held at the main media center (MMC) conference room in Doha on the 23rd, a day before the match, said, “Since we lost the match against Iraq, we have prepared to improve our performance, task, and team side by side in preparation for the match against Indonesia,” adding, “I hope the players will show their own play as they want and fight well as a team.”
Japan lost to Iraq in the previous match. It re-directed the tragedy of Doha more than 30 years ago. However, Japanese soccer has many good memories in Qatar in general. It is also the venue where the team won the Asian Cup in 2011, the U-23 Asian Cup in 2016, and defeated Germany and Spain in the FIFA World Cup 2022.
“Qatar is a good place to live in Japan. It is great to be able to play soccer in such a good country. It is the best environment to play soccer,” Moriyasu said. “For those who have made a good history in Japanese soccer, we will focus on the match against Indonesia and fight with all our might.”
However, Japan cannot rank No. 1 in its group. When the team beat Vietnam 4-2 in its first match of the championship, it seemed that Japan would advance to the round of 16 as the No. 1 player in the group, as a strong candidate. It also displayed Japan’s firepower, which had been considered as the top candidate even before the event. Japan, which is spending its second term with Moriyasu in preparation for this year’s event, has produced remarkable results. Japan continued its momentum to advance to the round of 16 teams at the FIFA World Cup Qatar last year, marking a new chapter in its 11th consecutive A-match winning streak, including the one against Vietnam.
Starting with the match against El Salvador (6-0) in June last year, Japan overwhelmed its opponents regardless of their continents and capabilities, including Peru (4-1), Germany (4-1), Turkiye (4-2), Canada (4-1), Tunisia (2-0), Myanmar (5-0), Syria (5-0), and Thailand (5-0). In preparation for the Asian Cup, Japan also showed off its best performance in the opening ceremony against Thailand, which is classified as a Southeast Asian powerhouse, on Jan. 1 at its home turf.
On top of that, the team showed off its power to win 6-1 in a closed practice match against Jordan, which was the final mock test for the Asian Cup. The match against Jordan, which exceeded the number of replacement players prescribed by FIFA, started the Asian Cup by continuing a winning streak in the national team’s matches, which had been going on since last year, even if it was not recognized as an official A match.
All external assessments took Japan’s victory as a given. “Opta,” a soccer statistics specialty, was calculated using a supercomputer before the Asian Cup, and Japan’s probability of winning the Asian Cup was the highest at 24.6 percent. Korea, which is full of players in big clubs, ranked second with 14.3 percent. Japan was highly appraised enough to secure a 10 percent higher probability.
However, the team failed to overcome Iraq. It gave the initiative to Iraq, which was fiercely attacking from the beginning, and collapsed weakly. Japan repeated its traditional weaknesses while being swayed by attacks using Iraq’s strength and height.
Some even talked about Moriyasu’s management of the national team, perhaps because of an unexpected defeat. Asked if he listens to people around him too much, he said, “There are various types of coaches. I want to create an environment where everyone can move forward to their goals,” adding, “I leave various things to the coach, and I want to listen to various opinions from the players to melt down the answers to show my best potential. Then, I make the final decision.”
“I want to emphasize that we have one direction. What we say for the team is important,” he added. “I feel that it is for Moriyasu.” He added, “This seems to lead to motivation on the ground. There are times when we need to change players even during competitions. Nana Endo Wataru (Liverpool) or a leader player are adjusting the details.”
“Red light came on in defense.” After the first game against Vietnam, he allowed two more runs. In set piece situations, goalie and defense showed weakness in competition for provisional rights. On the same day, goalie Suzuki Zaion (Sint Trauiden) mispunched a cross that Iraq quickly penetrated into the goal and connected in the fourth minute of the first half, providing an excuse for losing a point. The additional loss was also a header following the cross.
Then, ahead of the match against Indonesia, Japan invited its defender Takehiro Tomiyasu to the press conference. “I know that the match will not be easy. I felt that fighting in Asia was not easy when we played against Vietnam and Iraq,” Tomiyasu said. “As Indonesia has a chance to advance to the round of 16, it is important not to be overwhelmed by the opponent’s spirit. Rather, we need to be stronger. As a defender, we failed to make clean sheets in two matches, so we will make efforts to score no point in the match against Indonesia.”