Wednesday, 17 July 2024

December 10, 2019

 Japan 2 - 1 China  

December 10, 2019
Busan, S.Korea

Japan 2

1 1H 0
1 2H 1

1 China

Musashi Suzuki (29')
Genta Miura (70')
Scoring Dong Xue Sheng 90'
Genta Miura Cautions Mei Feng
Ming Tian

  Kosuke Nakamura; Shinnosuke Hatanaka, Genta Miura, Sho Sasaki; Yosuke Ideguchi, Kento Hashimoto; Keita Endo, Daiki Hashioka (Daiki Soma), Musashi Suzuki (Ryosuke Tagawa), Tsukasa Morishima; Ayase Ueda


The East Asian Cup opened on Tuesday evening, with a host of fresh new faces for the Samurai Blue faithful to run the rule over. The best new debutante of all was not a player, although most J.League fans have come to know it very well over the past decade.

Yes... at long last, the infamous 3-6-1 formation made its debut for the Japan National Team. Long-time readers will know that I have been a fan of this footballing philosophy for about a decade, and several years ago I even wrote an in-depth analysis of the formation and tactics, in an article for OneWorld Sports. Perhaps later in this tournament I will have more to say about what J.League fans have all come to know as the Petrovic 3-6-1. Certainly it is appropriate to name-check the man who first experimented with the 3-6-1, but as we enter a new era in the evolution of Samurai Blue, it also is important to point out that Moriyasu adapted the philosophy to his own tactical preferences. Among other things, he discouraged the sort of "Beckenbaurian libero charges" into attack that Tomoaki Makino earned breif fame for (though he retained the prominent role in offensive set-up play which the middle defender plays in this system). Accordingly, from henceforthwe will refer to the use of this formation by the Japan National Team as The Moriyasu 3-6-1.

The bad news, of course, is that the extreme lack of experience of most starters (not only NT experience, but more importantly experience of playing together in the same team) detracted a lot from the final result. Of course, the highly physical play of the Chinese opponents did not help, either. But then, this is the sort of thing we should expect at this most inauspicious of tournaments. Anyone who got their knickers in a twist over a few kicks towards the face need to remind themselves what Kung-Fu football REALLY means.

Anyway, while it is good to keep in mind what an unfinished product it is, the first glimpse of the Moriyasu 3-6-1 was a reasonable success. Genta Miura did a fine job in the centre of the back line, and though I have never personally been impressed by Yokohama Marinos defender Shinnosuke Hatanaka, he did a decent job up until the final minute of regulation. Sho Sasaki probably owes his captain selection to the fact that he has been playing the 3-6-1 for Moriyasu (and current Sanfrecce boss Hiroshi Jofuku) longer than anyone. He did a good job of keeping the team in shape, though I must say (despite personal fondness for the former Ventforet player) he may have a hard time keeping a spot on the roster when European players are available.

If the back line did its job reasonably well, the midfield showed flashes of both brilliance and disarray. As the solid foundation on which the midfield operates, Kento Hashimoto and Yosuke Ideguchi are both decent candidates. Unfortunately, both have some limitations which were noticeable whenever China counterattacked. When playing alongside someone like Gaku Shibasaki, either one can serve as a solid anvil on which the other midfielder's hammer can strike, winning back possession. But neither one really has the skill at "herding" the ball carrier into that trap which Shibasaki and Hotaru Yamaguchi possess.

On the handful of occasions that the two deep midfielders did snatch possession in a dangerous position, though, they did a good job of launching the counter. Of the two, Ideguchi is the more offensively inclined. However, following his ill-timed and wildly unsuccessful transfer to Leeds United just before the World Cup, he vanished from sight altogether and only resurfaced when Gamba Osaka brought him back to Japan. Hopefully he can get his career back on track after a costly detour. Ideguchi's best contribution of the night was a set piece that Hatanaka sent rocketing off the left post. 

On the wings, Keita Endo looked extremely lively and threatening, creating space on the left and constantly finding room to send in crosses. Daiki Hashioka, on the opposite wing, was a bit less involved, but also had one or two dangerous crosses in front. As noted above, however, none of the players have much experience with one another's playing style, so their failure to make connections was perhaps understandable if not entirely excusable. This contest was a long series of near misses, punctuated by one moment of absolute genius, when everyone read the script perfectly.

That moment came in the 29th minute, and it demonstrated the danger that the tight triangle of attackers at the top of the 3-6-1 can pose to defenses on the counterattack. Sho Sasaki got the charge started with a long ball to Kashima Antlers point man Ayase Ueda. Ueda had a very poor showing in his first few Samurai Blue caps, at the Copa America, and he has not entirely impressed at Kashima this year, either. But he does have the power and ability to hold up the ball that nobody except Yuya Osako has successfully provided, up to now. Ueda collected Sasaki's pass and then flicked a cheeky heel pass to Tsukasa Morishima as he slashed through the left channel. As Morishima burst through the Chinese line, so did Musashi Suzuki -- his counterpart in the "two shadow" positions (behind Ueda). The two runners completely collapsed the defense, and Morishima's cross was toed across the line by Suzuki.

Unfortunately, those sort of moments appeared in only a few flashes. Though Japan did dominate play, the only other goal came on a corner kick headed home by Gamba Osaka defender Miura, who might possibly battle the likes of Tomiyasu and Shoji for playing time if the 3-6-1 continues to be employed. Miura met the corner kick of his Gamba teammate, Ideguchi, directly in front of net, and had only to direct it across the line.

The final few minutes were disappointing, as a late defensive lapse allowed China to pull a goal back. But the East Asian Cup campaign is off to a winning start. North Korea awaits on Friday.