Propelled by Osako’s brace SAMURAI BLUE wins over Iran to advance through to Final – AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 (1/5-2/1)
29 January 2019
The SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) has taken a giant leap forward to earn their fifth overall title at the Asian Cup. On Monday 28 January, the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 semi-final match against the Iran National Team took place in Al Ain, UAE, where Japan won the match 3-0 with the help of their forward OSAKO Yuya’s (Werder Bremen) brace to advance through to the tournament final.
The final will take place on Friday 1 February in Abu Dhabi, where Japan will face the winner of the other semi-final match played between the host national UAE, who is led by former Japan National Team Coach Alberto ZACCHERONI, and the 2022 FIFA World Cup host nation Qatar.
While the persistent defensive efforts shown by the Japanese side had been the main emphasis throughout this tournament, it was the offence that shined at the semi-finals. The Japanese attackers managed to score three goals off the Iranian side who has kept a clean sheet in every match played at this tournament. With their win over Iran, who is ranked 29th in the FIFA rankings, Japan will now advance to their first Asian Cup final since the 2011 tournament.
Following their quarterfinal match against Vietnam on Thursday 24, Japan elected to start the exact line-up, except for the striker role, as Osako regained his spot after being side-lined with a hip injury.
Iran on the other hand has also made just one change from their quarterfinal match against China PR, as Mehdi TAREMI was suspended due to accumulative yellow cards, while Vahid AMIRI returned from his yellow card suspension. 10 players out of their starting eleven featured members who fought in the recent FIFA World Cup.
With the match venue, Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, being filled with the Iranian supporters, the match started off with an away like atmosphere for Japan. Despite the vibe at the stadium, it was the Japanese side who became the aggressor in the early minutes, as HARAGUCHI Genki (Hannover 96) struck a shot to start the action, DOAN Ritsu (FC Groningen) followed in the 19th minute with his left footed shot taken from the right side.
In response to the attacks initiated by Japan, Iran blocked off the central area while sending long balls to their lone striker Sardar AZMOUN to apply pressure to the Japanese defence line. However, the two centre halves, TOMIYASU Takehiro (Sint-Truidense V.V.) and YOSHIDA Maya (Southampton FC) performed superbly to deny the Iranian side from creating major opportunities.
Iran’s best opportunity in the first half came in the 22nd minute when they forced a turnover from a miscue between the Japanese defence line and the goalkeeper. It was Azmoun who penetrated the penalty area before striking a shot from the left side, but the goalkeeper GONDA Shuichi (Sagan Tosu) stretched out his left foot to block the shot.
While both sides came close to scoring a goal, the match entered halftime scoreless, but the deadlock was broken shortly in the second half.
In the 56th minute, MINAMINO Takumi (FC Red Bull Salzburg) received the ball from Osako and dribbled towards the box where he was brought down by the opposing defender. While the Iranian players crowded the referee to appeal for a no-foul, Minamino got up and chased the ball to keep the play alive and delivered a cross towards the goal. It was Osako who made the run into the penalty area and struck a header to capture the opening goal for Japan, as he later reflected, “I was eager to score a goal for the team.”
Five minutes later, defensive midfielder ENDO Wataru (Sint-Truidense V.V.), who combined well with SHIBASAKI Gaku (Getafe C.F.) to shut down the opponents at the midfield area, was forced to sub out with an injury, as SHIOTANI Tsukasa (Al Ain FC) made his way into the match.
Another opportunity was created in the 63rd minute when Minamino once again received the ball from Osako and penetrated the box. The cut back delivered by Minamino deflected off the sliding defender’s hand and the referee pointed at the penalty mark. The play was reviewed and confirmed by the VAR (Video Assistant Referee), allowing Osako to convert the spot kick to give Japan a two-goal lead.
In efforts to rally back, Iran utilised their substitutions to bring in their offensive players, but Japan remained composed in their defence to give out no major opportunity. In the 84th minute, Shibasaki combined with Minamino to create an opportunity for Japan, while the late substitute, ITO Junya (Kashiwa Reysol) made efforts to dribble up the field, but their attempts fell short from finding the net.
Japan’s third goal came during the additional time, when Shibasaki intercepted the ball before sending the ball to Minamino who redirected the ball to Haraguchi. The Japanese winger dribbled into the box and struck a left footed shot that shook the net. The match saw scuffles between the two sides towards the end, but Japan secured their spot into the final with a 3-0 victory over Iran.
Coaches and Players' Comments
MORIYASU Hajime, Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
Facing an Iranian side who has advanced to the semi-finals with an astonishing record, we entered the match expecting a very difficult battle. Our players showed their willingness to challenge themselves with great intention to fight through and performed with great confidence to earn the victory. Despite the away like atmosphere at the stadium, we are glad that we were able to deliver a good performance and a win to our supporters.
Our approach towards the match has been the same, as we always pay respect to our opponents and insist on winning matches by playing to our full potential at the both individual and team level. Because we were facing a team with great physiques and strengths, we entered the match with more aggression compared to the previous matches. We also made more efforts to win the fifty-fifty balls and the loose balls, while our defensive end contributed a lot to our offence by moving the ball around effectively under pressure. It’s very difficult to keep possession of the ball in an intense match like this, but our players showed great courage to challenge themselves in the given circumstance.
We managed to show great aggression in both offence and defence. Our players did a great job to adjust to changes and displayed their flexibility on the pitch. I want my players to continue to build on the fundamental aspects while striving for higher standards when they play at the final.
DF #22 YOSHIDA Maya (Southampton FC)
We knew that their #20 was going to be their key player, so we focused on containing him, while keeping our plays simple when facing difficult balls delivered towards us. Our attacking players did a great job to eliminate the passing courses, so it made it easier for us to defend. What’s important was that we managed to score the second and third goal, that has ultimately helped the defence the most.
FW #15 OSAKO Yuya (Werder Bremen)
I am glad I was able to score today. There were times where I couldn’t help the team out with my injury, so I wanted to pay them back with my plays. Being able to thrive at these big matches gives me great confidence. We still have a match to play, so we will reset our minds ahead of the final, as we cannot afford to lose at the final. We only want results. Following the World Cup, we have welcomed in new players from the younger generations, so this title can give those players great confidence moving forwards. Nonetheless, the next match will be a huge match for us.
Carlos QUEIROZ, Coach of Iran National Team
It was a very intense and well-balanced battle between two teams with different styles. However, we gave up the first goal from a naive mistake which shook-up our players in the mental aspect. Our players made the assumption that the referee was going to stop the match, while the Japanese side continued on with their play. Japan deserves to move onto the final and I want to congratulate them. I wish them the best at the final.
AFC ASIAN CUP UAE 2019
Tournament Dates: Sat. 5 January - Fri. 1 February 2019
Knockout Stage Final:
Fri. 1 February Kick-off 23:00 (Japan Time)
vs Qatar National Team or UAE National Team
Broadcasting: Televised Live at TV Asahi Group
BS Broadcasting: Televised Live at NHKBS1
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