Tuesday, 21 May 2024

December 14, 2019

 Japan 5 - 0 Hong Kong  

December 14, 2019
Busan, S.Korea

Japan 5

4 1H 0
1 2H 0

0 Hong Kong

Daiki Suga (08')
Kyosuke Tagawa(14')
Koki Ogawa (26')
Koki Ogawa (45+1')
Koki Ogawa (59')
  Cautions S-K Chan

  Keisuke Osako; Taiyo Koga, Jun Tanaka, Tsuyoshi Watanabe; Ryota Oshima, Ao Tanaka (Shinnosuke Hatanaka 67'); Daiki Suga, Kyosuke Tagawa, Teruhito Nakagawa, Yuki Soma; Daiki Ogawa (Ayase Ueda 84')

Hajime Moriyasu continued his experimentation with new, J-League based players on Saturday, as Japan took on Hong Kong in the East Asian Cup. Once again, the team lined up in the Moriyasu 3-6-1 formation, and despite the fact that only a few of these players (members of the 2020 Olympic squad) have experience playing together, they did a pretty good job of exploiting the formation's numerical advantage in midfield.

Unfortunately, it will be a bit hard for anyone -- even the Japan NT coaches -- to draw conclusions from this match. At the end of the day, even the most impressive of performances has to be qualified with the disclaimer: "it's only Hong Kong." And while I do not mean to put the Chinese territory or the individual players down, the gulf in talent and experience was impossible to overlook. I missed the halftime possession statistics but it must have been close to 80% in Japan's favour. Perhaps as importantly, once Japan got their fourth goal they seemed to lose any real killer instinct. Most of the second half was squandered in long, wandering exchanges of one and two touch passes, as the attacking unit literally tried to pass the ball into the Hong Kong net.

Nevertheless, I think most viewers would agree that Mito Hollyhock striker Koki Ogawa captured the spotlight with his Samurai Blue debut hat trick. Ogawa was loaned to Hollyhock from Jubilo, the latter half of the season, and contributed 7 goals, 3 assists over 17 matches. No doubt Jubilo could have used those goals in their relegation battle, but now it appears that the 21-year-old may be this winter's most marketable property. Ogawa is a consummate finisher, and though some might add that a lot of his goals are of the "tap-in" variety, That is just what you want from a lone striker in the midfield-centric philosophy of the 3-6-1.

Before Ogawa could take the stage, though, Consadole Sapporo winger Daiki Suga opened the scoring for Japan in the eighth minute. Yuki Soma -- who also was a key contributor in this contest -- Floated in a dangerous cross from the right flank, which was weakly headed clear. The ball fell to Suga just inside the box, with no marker in sight. The silver-tousled Snow Owl lashed the ball into the strings to start things off with a bang.

Five minutes later Japan extended its lead to 2-0 on a corner kick. J.League Player of the Year Teruhito Nakagawa floated in the cross, and Kyosuke Tagawa nodded it home. Ogawa got his hat trick started in the 26th minute. Once again, Soma created danger on the right wing before circulating the ball across the top of the box. Ogawa spotted an opening and turned quickly to fire low inside the left post.

The fourth goal, though, was the highlight of the contest and the knockout punch for the Hong Kong eleven. After a prolonged sequence of possession, Japan finally moved the ball into the Hong Kong box and then, following a clever inlet pass, three Japanese players passed the ball around inside the six yard box, taking a total of six touches before Ogawa finally flicked the ball across the line from a foot out. The goal itself was such a slap in the face that Ogawa seemed embarrassed to even celebrate

Ogawa completed his hat trick on the hour mark, again heading home from a set play. If he can maintain this sort of finishing finesse against better opposition, perhaps Japan will finally have a rival for Yuya Osako, in the centre striker spot.

As already noted, any evaluation of the performances has to be qualified by the fact that ... yeah .. this WAS only Hong Kong. Even so, both Ogawa and Soma performed well enough to have earned another look. Ryota Oshima wore the captain's armband -- in part because he has seen the most action for the Samurai Blue. Though a very solid part of the dominant midfield, he did not do anything to change the general impression we already had of the Kawasaki volante: Dependable on defense, competent on offense, but lacking anything to distinguish him from the likes of Hashimoto, Yamaguchi and Endo. Ao Tanaka also played in deep midfield (for 67 minutes), and acquitted himself reasonably well for a debutant. Again, though, he doesnt really demonstrate the vision or creativity to distinguish himself from other existing candidates.

Daiki Suga was lively on the left flank, though he saw less of the ball than Soma on the opposite flank. His goal was well taken, and he pressed the ball extremely well, but he had a few defensive lapses and missed passes that would be punished by a more competent opponent. The Consadole 21-year old shows promise, but he still needs a lot of polishing. 

There is not much that can be said about the back line. They were never under pressure, and only on a handful of occasions did they play a meaningful part in an offensive sequence. Shunta Tanaka looked comfortable in his NT debut, anchoring the back line. But when he moved to the second row in the 67th minute (Hatanaka joining the back line), Japan's offense seemed to stall.  

That leaves us with the two "shadow strikers", Ryosuke Tagawa and Teruhito Nakagawa. The latter, in particular, was being watched intently after collecting the J.League Player of the Year awards, earlier this month. Though both players had a lot of possession, and displayed their ball skills repeatedly, there was little end product. Nakagawa DID pose an extremely dangreous threat on defense, since he is alraedy accustomed to the sort of high press that Moriyasu's philosophy requires. Time after time, his pressure on the Hong Kong defenders forced a weak pass or a deflection, and won Japan possession in dangerous areas of the pitch. But whether for lack of chemistry or lack of ideas, the two support men in the offense did not really impress.

Of course, the one match that will really matter, in this tournament, will be Wednesday's clash with South Korea. It will be interesting to see which players Moriyasu chooses for his final starting lineup.