Wednesday, 17 July 2024

August 10, 2019

 Japan 6 - 0 Myanmar  

Japan's first home match in 2022 World Cup qualification was played on Thursday evening, against that mighty footballing behemoth, Mongolia. If that intro doesnt set your pulse to racing . . . . well . . . . to be honest, this report on the Samurai Blue's performance isnt going to do so either. While I don't wish to demean Mongolia's hard work and valiant running, it was always clear that a half-arsed-effort would be enough to secure a lopsided result. And that was pretty much what we got. As Blue Oyster Cult would say . . . . .  

October 10, 2019
Saitama Stadium

Japan 6

4 1H 0
2 2H 0

0 Myanmar

Takumi Minamino (22')
Maya Yoshida (29')
Yuto Nagatomo (33')
Kensuke Nagai (40')
Wataru Endo (56')
Daichi Kamata (40')

  Shuichi Gonda; Hiroki Sakai (Koki Anzai 57'), Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Yuto Nagatomo; Gaku Shibasaki, Wataru Endo; Junya Ito, Takumi Minamino (Daichi Kamata 60'), Shoya Nakajima; Kensuke Nagai (Genki Haraguchi 70')

Japan's second World Cup qualification match kicked off on Thursday in Saitama, where essentially the same Samurai Blue squad that overcame Myanmar last month got together for a casual little kickabout. They strolled around in the muggy evening air. worked up a little bit of a sweat, and with maybe one or two exceptions, did nothing that deserves to be remembered. They got the job done with minimal fuss, which is pleasant news for those who recall Samurai Blue qualification campaigns of the past. But if you note an air of mild disappointment in the tone of our match report ... good for you. Very observant.

At the risk of belabouring a point, let me quote the final paragraph of my last match report (on Japan v Myanmar):
"This is the danger of using your First String against low-level AFC opposition. They rarely if ever cover themselves in glory, even in victory. Far better to use these Asian matches as a chance to give the Next Generation real, first-hand experience in FIFA 'A' matches that MEAN something.

Do you like rhetorical questions? Here are a few:
・How many more times do we need to see a back line of Sakai-Yoshida-Tomiyasu-Nagatomo before we can tell whether or not they are a reliable, experienced, albeit unspectacular defensive unit?
・Even if you thought Shuichi Gonda was the second coming of Oliver Kahn (and few sane people do...), would it really hurt to take him out and let Schmidt get at least SOME experience?
・Does a hat-trick of wide-open misses and a goal that even Ben Volavola couldnt have missed mean we can finally put a line through Daichi Kamada's name in the squad list?

On a less snarky note, the changes that Coach Moriyasu DID make were nice to see. Junya Ito made good use of his chance to start on the right wing, in place of Ritsu Doan. While the PSV midfielder is performing well for his club this season, his contributions to the Samurai Blue have fallen off. Ito seized his opportunity with three lovely assists, two more crosses that the likes of Yuya Osako would have buried, and two shots that really tested the Mongolian keeper. Wataru Endo was the latest defensive partner to put on the deputy badge alongside Gaku Shibasaki, and though the two missed connections on a few occasions, Endo looked as good as any of the other candidates, contributing his first NT goal (with an "assist" from Hiroki Sakai's face).

Saving the best for last, Portominense utility-man Koki Anzai put in an impressive 30 minutes in place of Sakai, at wingback. Was he really playing wingback, though? Over the final 15 minutes or so he spent much of his time on the edges of the Mongolia box, and was a bit unlucky to have been feeding such an unrewarding target as Kamada. At Portominense he seems to be viewed as a wingback (who can play either side), but at Kashima and Tokyo Verdy he frequently played on the midfield wing. At a minimum he must have been swapping responsibilities with Ito -- a suggestion that the two deserve to start together, against Tajikistan

Then there is the name that many expected to see on this evening's scoresheet, but was absent altogether. I think Moriyasu may be justified in making Kubo wait his turn, since there are a great many other Japanese players who are just as deserving of a chance to show their mettle. But surely, you have to toss him in at the deep end eventually. What better time to do it than against a weak Asian opponent? Just as Ito's emergence can serve as a spur to get Doan to step up his performances, a good outing by Kubo would create positive pressure on Minamino and Nakajima. Hopefully at least one of those three will be starting against Kazakhstan

As for the rest of the usual suspects . . . . . what more can I say? They all displayed the talent that we already know they possess, but none provided any real "spark" of intensity. It was nice to see both Yoshida and Nagatomo register goals, though in both cases the final touch was easy peasy Japanesey, all the hard work having been done by the assist-man (Sakai in the first case, Ito in the latter). Maybe this is a good time and a good reason to give them "a break"from NT duty until after the Olympics. When the level of competition rises, Moriyasu can decide whether or not tehy need to be recalled. At the moment, though, all they are doing is preventing players like Ueda, Hatanaka, Shoji and others from getting experience. The Coach does seem to be trying out more options in midfield and attack. While the current "core members -- Minamino, Doan, Ito, Kubo, Nakajima and Shibasaki -- are all doing a solid (particularly in the physical sense) job, they can stand a bit more competition for places. There are mamny other younsters out there who deserve a shot, while one often gets the sense that the current group are, as Blue Oyster Cult would say.... 

For those who haven't seen highlights or a recap, Japan dominated the contest from start to finish without ever shifting out of second gear. Takumi Minamino opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, after Ito ran a quick overlap and delivered the floating cross for Minaminoto head into the strings. Five minutes later a corner kick was kept alive in front of goal, flicked up into the goal mouth by Sakai and headed across the line by Yoshida.

The deluge continued in the 33rd minute, when Ito carved his way through the Mongolian defence like an electric carving knife through butterball turkey, skipped to the edge of the six-yard box where the keeper lunged out to confront him, and then casually rolled the ball across the face of goal. Nagatomo crept to Mongolia's back door, found it unlatched, unguarded and swinging wide open on its hinges, allowing him to just tap the ball across the line and extend the lead to 3-0. The deluge continued as Ito completed his hat trick of assists, five minutes before the break. Exchanging passes with Sakai on the right flank, Ito spotted the speedy Nagai cutting into the box, and found him with a looping cross. Nagai's header (and a goal by Minamino seconds later, which was ruled out for offside) officialized the rout, and the intensity of play waned from this point to the end of the second half.

Japan did add two more in the second half, one on a corner kick that Endo headed on goal and recorded as his first career tally for the Samurai Blue (though a careful look at the replay suggests that it caromed off Sakai's cheek and into the net). The final tally was headed in by Daichi Kamata from point-blank range. Unfortunately, this was Kamata's only positive contribution to speak of. He missed at least three chances that Yuya Osako (or indeed, virtually any European striker) would have buried. On the whole, Japan's overall performance both as a team and as individuals was workmanlike . . . . competent . . . . but really not sharp or enthusiastic enough to call "impressive."

As the quote I used at the start of this article should indicate, none of this is a surprise. We know that it is hard to look your best, or fire yourself up, when playing against the likes of Myanmar or Mongolia. But that is who we have to play. It is up to the coaches and the JFA to use these games most effectively. And as I think Thursday's match demonstrated, using your tried-and-true veterans in such matches is NOT an effective use.