SAMURAI BLUE loses to Qatar to finish as runners-up – AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 (1/5-2/1)
02 February 2019
On Friday 1 February, the SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) played in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 final and lost to the Qatar National Team, 1-3, at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
At their first tournament under the new regime of Coach MORIYASU Hajime, the team showed their resiliency to overcome difficult matches to make their way into the final with six consecutive victories, but on this day their streak came to an end.
In search for the record breaking fifth overall Asian Cup title, Japan started the same line-up from the semi-final match against Iran, except for the defensive midfield position, where SHIOTANI Tsukasa (Al Ain FC) replaced the injured ENDO Wataru (Sint-Truidense V.V.).
On the other hand, Qatar, who was making their 10th overall appearance at the cup, welcomed back Abdulaziz HATEM and Bassam AL-RAWI from their suspensions, lining up a different formation from their semi-final match against UAE, as they employed a three-back formation with their ace Almoez ALI at top.
The opening goal came in the 12th minute, when Qatar’s Akram Hassan AFIF delivered a cross from the left flank. The tournament leading scorer, Ali, controlled the ball with the Japanese defender on his back and floated the ball to strike a bicycle kick. The shot took a bounce in front of the goal before finding the back of the net, giving Qatar the early lead, as well as Ali his ninth goal of the tournament.
With momentum on their side, Afif and Ali combined again to threaten the Japanese goal soon after, but YOSHIDA Maya (Southampton FC) was there to make the block.
Despite the efforts made by Japan to level the match, it was Qatar who scored the next goal. In the 27th minute, Qatar broke through the right flank before sending the ball to Hatem at the centre. The Qatari midfielder who scored the game winner at the quarterfinals against Korea Republic, struck an excellent left-footed shot from distance to double the lead for his side.
Now down by two goals, and with the fatigue from the tight tournament schedule kicking in, the Japanese side struggled to deal with the agile attacks initiated by Qatar. Also in offence, with tight marks applied to OSAKO Yuya (Werder Bremen) and MINAMINO Takumi (FC Red Bull Salzburg), the Japanese attackers failed to create opportunities against Qatar.
After entering halftime two goals behind, Japan started to show signs to rally back in the early minutes of the second half, as the team earned consecutive corner kicks. In the 55th minute, defender TOMIYASU Takehiro (Sint-Truidense V.V.) combined well with Shiotani to break into the penalty area but came short from taking a shot.
A substitution made in the 62nd minute allowed Japan to change the pace of the game, as MUTO Yoshinori (Newcastle United) was brought in for HARAGUCHI Genki (Hannover 96), shifting Minamino to the left side.
Just two minutes following the substitution, Muto and DOAN Ritsu (FC Groningen) combined to create an opportunity, but Muto’s header came short from capturing the target.
The long-awaited moment for Japan came in the 69th minute, when SAKAI Hiroki (Olympique de Marseille) delivered the ball to Shiotani, who found Osako in the box. The pass delivered to Osako was redirected to Minamino, allowing the midfielder to break through the goal area before chiping the ball over the goalkeeper who came out to make the save, giving Japan their first goal of the match.
The Japanese side seemingly gained momentum from this goal, as Muto connected with a cross delivered by NAGATOMO Yuto (Galatasaray S.K.) to threaten the Qatari goal in the 73rd minute.
However, a 79th minute counter attack gave Qatar a corner kick, which led to a play where the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) spotted out a hand ball committed by the Japanese defender inside the box. After the referee reviewed the scene, a penalty kick was granted to Qatar, which Afif calmly converted to give his side a 3-1 lead.
In efforts to make the final push, Japan brought in ITO Junya (Kashiwa Reysol) for Shiotani, followed by a change made in the 89th minute, as INUI Takashi (Deportivo Alaves) was brought in for Minamino. Despite seeing a close opportunity from Yoshida’s header in the closing minutes, Japan failed to come back as the match ended with a final score of 1-3. Japan suffered their first loss under the Coach Moriyasu regime, which started last September, as their undefeated streak ended at 11.
After registering nine goals, Qatar’s Ali was named as the tournament MVP, while Qatar’s goalkeeper, Saad Al SHEEB earned the Best Goalkeeper Award, and Japan was given the Fair-Play Award.
Coaches and Players' Comments
MORIYASU Hajime, Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
First of all, I would like to congratulate the Qatar National Team for winning the tournament. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t achieve our goal to win the title, and I am disappointed that we couldn’t live up to our supporters’ expectations. However, we were able to see our team improve through the seven matches we’ve played, as all of our players and staffs gave their best efforts under the pressure and expectations. As a coach, this tournament made me realise that I must also improve myself to become a better coach.
We knew our opponents could line-up with a three-back formation, so we came prepared for it, but there was a clear mismatch on the pitch, and we conceded the first goal before we can make the adjustments. That goal really made the match difficult for us. It is my fault that I couldn’t get our players in the condition to play freely. We gradually found our rhythm to apply pressure in offence, but it’s tough to come back after conceding two goals. Once we made it 1-2, we saw many opportunities to equalise the match, but our opponents showed great defence, which led to this disappointing result. At the end of the day, the opponents were stronger, and we must analyse what we lacked to improve ourselves moving forward. We must heighten the quality of our plays and combinations when facing teams dropping deep to defend. Also, we must become able to show persistent defence even when mismatches happen on the field.
We tried out many different styles and managed to step-up as a team through these tough matches. This experience will become the foundation of the team and help us build a stronger team in the future. We were able fusion the veterans with the younger players, which certainly have allowed the youngsters to gain precious experience to level-up as a football player. I want my players to feed off of this bitter experience and continue to strive for higher goals. I am proud of my team and I want them to leave UAE with great confidence.
DF #16 TOMIYASU Takehiro (Sint-Truidense V.V.)
During the match, I was feeling that our defence was not functioning well, but even so, we still had to be more persistent to keep the clean sheet, which could have changed the course of the match. This match made me realise that we need to be more flexible on the pitch.
DF #22 YOSHIDA Maya (Southampton FC)
We didn’t enter the match well, and we had to at least keep the match within one-goal to give ourselves a chance to come back at the second half. The third goal we conceded turned out to be a huge blow for us, because we had great momentum following our first goal. Given a new role from this tournament, I really wanted to lead the team to victory, but with all three conceded goals coming from my cover, I felt that I still have long ways to go. The World Cup qualifiers are ahead of us and we must move on from this loss. We must get stronger and strive for higher goals.
MF #9 MINAMINO Takumi (FC Red Bull Salzburg)
This was a tournament we had to win, and I am very disappointed with this result. We conceded the goal while we were making the adjustments in defence. We had to at least realise what we had to do and make the adjustments after conceding the first goal.
Felix SANCHEZ, Coach of Qatar National Team
I want to congratulate the people of Qatar and all of our players. We managed to showcase a great performance against a top-quality team of Asia and the World. This is a major accomplishment for us, and we certainly deserve this result. We have made history for our country, and I am very proud of it. This tournament has given us the opportunity to take a wonderful step forward ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
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
Broadcasting: Televised Live at TV Asahi Group
BS Broadcasting: Televised Live at NHKBS1
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