Saturday, 02 March 2024


Dream Start for Moriyasu Japan

 Japan 3 - 0 Costa Rica 

September 11, 2018
Suita Stadium, Osaka

Japan 3

1 1H 0
2 2H 0

0 Costa Rica

Own Goal (16')
Takumi Minamino (66')
Junya Ito (90'+2)  

  Cautions Allan Cruz
Oscar Duarte

  Masaaki Higashiguchi; Sei Muroya (Hidemasa Morita 82'), Tomoaki Makino, Genta Miura, Sho Sasaki (Shintaro Kurumaya 78'); Toshihiro Aoyama (Kenta Misao 88'), Wataru Endo; Ritsu Doan (Junya Ito 85'), Takumi Minamino, Shoya Nakajima (Jun Amano 75'); Yu Kobayashi (Takuma Asano 68')
  Leonel Moreira (Kevin Briceno 46’), Ian Smith, Keyner Brown, Oscar Duarte, Juan Pablo Vargas (Daniel Colindres 67’), Bryan Oviedo (Luis Jose Hernandez 46’), Allan Cruz (Wilmer Azofeifa 46’), Randall Leal (Jimmy Marin 62’), David Guzman, Mayron George (Jonathan Moya 56’), David Ramirez

A new era has dawned for the Japan National Team, and if you thought the drama that the Samurai Blue enacted in Russia this past summer was a favorable surprise, the next four years are going to boggle your mind. Those of us who follow the development of Japanese football players in intricate detail have been saying for years that the time had come to pass the baton to a new generation. Perhaps it is understandable that mainstream audiences still lionized the tried and true veterans who rose to fame in the early years of this century, and who provided the bulk of the squad that Akira Nishino took to Russia. But the chapter dealing with the likes of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki, Maya Yoshida and Makoto Hasebe should have ended three or more years ago. Anyone who doubted whether the younger generation was ready to step into the shoes of those well-known icons of Japanese football had their doubts dispelled thoroughly over the 90 minutes of action against Costa Rica, Tuesday evening. The only disappointment fans will feel after that rousing display of fast-paced, pulse-quickening football comes from the fact that this group of young guns had their scheduled debuts postponed, when an earthquake in Hokkaido caused the cancellation of their planned match against Chile, last Thursday.

Before one can begin appraising the performance of Moriyasu's squad, a number of caveats must be made. The team called up for this international break did not include several of the players who most expect to play a central role in the next generation of the Samurai Blue. Defender Gen Shoji, who was a central contributor in Russia, is still recovering from an injury, while overseas stars like Gaku Shibasaki, Yoshinori Muto and Yuya Osako were left off the list because they are at new teams in Europe, this year, and need to devote their time and energy to the fight for a starting position. As a result, Coach Moriyasu called up a few veterans who this writer has expressed disappointment with in the past -- players who have the age and experience needed to serve as mentors and team leaders for the younger generation, but who one hopes will be edged out of the lineup over the next six months to a year. These include Yu Kobayashi, Tomoaki Makino and Toshihiro Aoyama. It is easy to understand why Moriyasu wanted players like these to provide an element of experience and continuity, but there are definitely better options available for the long term.

The most interesting point to note, in reviewing the game against Costa Rica, is that these "veterans" were actually the least productive members of the Samurai Blue squad on Tuesday. It was the fresh-faced newcomers who set the pace, provided the leadership, created the goals and played with self-assurance. The crisp pace of play, the one-touch passing and the constant movement both on and off the ball will all be familiar to those who followed Sanfrecce Hiroshima's league title campaigns in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Though the team adopted a nominal 4-5-1 alignment, rather than the three-back system that the coach developed in Hiroshima, the style of play was classic Moriyasu football.

The lion's share of attention will probably accrue to attacking midfielders Ritsu Doan, Takumi Minamino and Shoya Nakajima, whose aristic passing exchanges penetrating dribbles and constant movement were a true joy to watch. But perhaps the most impressive play of all came from two wingbacks who were getting their first real chance to prove their value at the international level. Sho Sasaki, who played for Moriyasu at Sanfrecce during the 2015 title run, and Sei Muroya, an FC Tokyo stalwart who attracted attention as a member of the U-21 squad a few years ago but who fell out of the NT picture due to a severe hamstring injury in 2016, delivered performances that will surely pour cold water on the idea that Yuto Nagatomo might still be an NT candidate for the 2022 World Cup. Sasaki was deprived of a debut goal by the official scorekeeper, when his powerful header of a Minamino corner kick deflected off the head of a defender and into the net. The ball was on target and surely would have beaten the keeper with or without the deflection, but the official score line called it an Own Goal. Both Muroya and Sasaki impressed at both ends of the pitch, overlapping dangerously time after time, yet always scrambling back into defense to deny even a hint of a Costa Rica counterattack.

After Sasaki's header opened the scoring in the 16th minute, Japan played with poise, power and precision. Only some unfortunate bounces and a bit of miscommunication on the final pass kept them from scoring two or three more times before the break. Kobayashi, though not a standout, provided a strong and reliable pivot at the top of the formation, and the midfielders (Doan, Minamino, Nakajima and Wataru Endo) dribbled and passed their way through the Costa Rica defense almost at will. There were a few hiccups in the buildup which suggest that the players need a bit more time to learn one another's preferences. But on the whole, the 1-0 lead that the Samurai Blue held at half time was hugely flattering to the visitors.

The smooth, flowing runs and passing exchanges resumed almost immediately after the break, and the Costa Ricans were so hard pressed to contain Japan's attack that they had almost no time or energy to spare for attacks of their own. The best chances the Ticos got were all set plays, and none of them really tested Masaaki Higashiguchi, in the Japan goal. The inevitable insurance tally arrived midway through the second half, as Nakajima, Sasaki and Minamino teamed up to shred the left flank of Costa Rica's defense. Minamino took a drop pass from Endo who had been played into the box by Nakajima, and stroked it between the legs of his defender into the low right corner.

The show was far from over, as substitutes like Takuma Asano, Jun Amano and Junya Ito all made strong bids for inclusion in future squads with solid play off the bench. Ito would make the strongest appeal, though, with a surging dribble into the box from the right sideline and a powerful finish which put the final touch on Japan's 3-0 victory, just before the final whistle.

There will be much to discuss in the coming days and months, as a new generation finally emerges from the shadow of the so-called "Platinum Generation" and takes over as the core of Moriyasu Japan. Based on their first showing, this generation has the potential to surpass anything that has come before. Though many of the top prospects are still just out of their teens, they already display as much talent and tactical intelligence as their predecessors, and far more energy, aggression and decisiveness in the final third. If Coach Moriyasu can mold this material into an effective team, the future for Samurai Blue fans looks very bright indeed.