Wednesday, 17 July 2024

Dull Dutch Day for Overseas Samurai

 Japan 0 - 0 Cameroon

October 9, 2020
Utrecht, The Netherlands

Japan 0

0 1H 0
0 2H 0

0 Cameroon


Takehiro Tomiyasu
Genki Haraguchi
Cautions Onanga

  Shuichi Gonda; Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Koki Anzai (Junya Ito 45'); Gaku Shibasaki, Yuta Nakayama; Ritsu Doan (Takefusa Kubo 65'), Takumi Minamino (Daichi Kamata 71'), Genki Haraguchi (Yukinari Sugawara 86'); Yuya Osako

The Japan National Team played their first international in nine months, Friday evening, with a squad made up entirely of players who currently are at overseas clubs. This is the first time ever that the Samurai Blue squad has not included at least one player from the top domestic league. The number of Japanese players in Europe continues to swell, and Coach Hajime Moriyasu did not even have difficulty bolstering the roster after Yuto Nagatomo and Shinji Okazaki withdrew (both are said to have only minor fitness issues, but were released to respect the interests of their club teams).

Not surprisingly, most of the media buildup surrounded Takefusa Kubo, the teen sensation-of-the-year, despite the fact that he did not even start. Based on recent form, however, those who follow the Samurai Blue closely were interested to see some of young players who have been setting the Dutch and Belgian leagues alight in recent months, such as Junya Ito (Genk), Koji Miyoshi (Antwerp), Yuta Nakayama (Zwolle) and Ko Itakura (Groeningen), among others. The Low Countries have become one of the prime destinations for promising Japanese internationals. Indeed, all but a few of the players in Friday's squad have played in Holland or Belgium at some point in their careers, whether it be Ritsu Doan, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Daichi Kamada, who made moves to more competitive leagues just a few months ago, or Maya Yoshida, who joined VVV Venlo more than a decade ago.

The contest itself was pretty disappointing. From Coach Moriyasu's standpoint it provided a lot of useful information, and it demonstrated the improving physical resilience of Japanese players, who refused to let the Cameroonians kick them out of the contest. In the first half, though, the constant physical pressure and a lack of options in midfield made it very hard for the Samurai Blue to retain possession for any extended period. They did have the better chances of the first 45 minutes - the most dangerous being a Maya Yoshida header that almost squirmed its way past the keeper and into the right corner. However, most of these opportunities were created by Japan's own forechecking pressure, which resulted in several steals deep in the Cameroon end. But the attacking midfield trio of Doan, Minamino and Haraguchi has looked increasingly stale and uncertain. All of the Samurai Blue earned passing marks, but Haraguchi was perhaps the least impressive of the starters, followed closely by midfielder Yuta Nakayama, who paired Gaku Shibasaki in deep midfield.

At half time, Moriyasu made a critical change in formation, replacing left wingback Koki Anzai with the attack-minded winger Junya Ito, and switching to a 3-6-1 alignment. This completely altered the balance of possession, as the additional man in midfield allowed Japan to win the ball back quickly, as soon as they lost possession. With a bit better coordination in the attacking zone, Japan might have edged in front during the first 20 minutes of the second half. When the momentum began to fade, Moriyasu brought on Take Kubo for Doan (oddly, since he was the most effective of the attacking players in the first half). The youngster seemed to have good chemistry with Ito on the right wing, and with a bit more time, they might have finally unlocked the tough Cameroon defense. Daichi Kamada, who replaced Minamino on 70 minutes, also showed some solid play. The only thing missing was the final payoff.

Japan takes on Cote d'Ivoire early next week, and we may see a younger starting lineup. Given the results in this match, one hopes that Moriyasu will stick with the 3-6-1 that looked so much more effective in the second half of this contest.