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A mutual respect created an epic match – Always have respect Vol.70

04 April 2019

A mutual respect created an epic match – Always have respect Vol.70

The 11th JFA Football Conference held in mid-January at Kochi City was a great success. The efforts made by the Japanese coaches to catch up with the world standards were proven at the recent World Cup that they were not a waste.

The most striking part of the three-day conference was the programme held in the first day, where last year’s World Cup match against Belgium was featured for an analysis. During the programme, JFA Technical Director SEKIZUKA Takashi went over the match while viewing a pre-recorded interview between the current Japan National Team Coach MORIYASU Hajime, who was the assistant coach at the time, and the Belgium National Team Coach Roberto MARTINEZ. The stories told during this programme were very intriguing.

“The Japanese players had nurtured great confidence over the previous three matches. Even though we knew Belgium was a powerhouse with many superstars, we were able to enter the match with the same eye level with our opponents. Coach NISHINO Akira prepped-up the players by telling them that if we can showcase the Japanese style of football, we can put up an equal fight, and those words allowed the players to play aggressively in that Belgium match.” (Coach Moriyasu)

“I had the impression that Japan didn’t show all their cards during the three group stage matches. We were not able to get a full grasp of their team level, so we focused on analysing our own team to prepare ourselves ahead of the match. There were some people already talking about our potential quarterfinal opponent, Brazil, but I kept telling my players to focus on our match against Japan.” (Coach Martinez)

The two teams shared a mutual quality, which was their strong commitment towards the match. Japan entered the match with no fear, despite knowing their opponents were top-class, while Belgium also entered the match with full respect for Japan. One of the best matches of this World Cup was played as a result of a mutual respect shared by the two sides.

In the second half, Japan scored two goals from their quick attacks to take the lead. That is when Coach Martinez was forced to make a decision.

“Japan is displaying a wonderful performance. Some of their players, especially their fullbacks, are playing with great quality to force our outside players to drop deep to make it look like we are playing five in the back. We cannot catchup with them if we kept playing like this.”

Two players with a distinct height advantage were introduced to the match in the 65th minute. They changed their approach from penetrating the flanks with their collective plays, to taking on the opponent one-on-one to deliver the ball into the central area. This was a result of the Belgian side acknowledging the strengths showcased by Japan, which was another sign of respect shown in this match.

The score was levelled at 2-2 and the match entered additional time of the second half. Japan earned a direct free kick which led to a subsequent corner kick from the left side. Technical Director Sekizuka, who was watching the match from the stands, reflected on the scene, “I was sensing a strong intention from the players that they wanted to end it right there.”

On the other hand, the same thought came across the mind of Coach Martinez, as he recalled, “We really wanted to finish the match in the 90-minute regulation time.” The coach continued by praising his goalkeeper, “We are always anticipating to counter from the opponent’s corner kicks. But that transition made by COURTOIS was something only he can pull off.”

That deciding goal became a popular topic of conversation, as seen in the documentary filmed by NHK which featured that particular scene. But perhaps the most important aspect of that match against Belgium was the fact that the two sides carried a mutual respect for each other and gave their utmost efforts to create that epic match.

During the post-match interview, Coach Nishino was heard muttering, “What did we lack…” Some would say a tactical foul had to be committed to stop that play, but with such cynical attitude, Japan will never reach the top-level of the world. The only path to reach the pinnacle is to analyse the match from the 65th minute and on, learn from the experience, and keep working hard. Coach Martinez concluded the interview by stating the following.

“Losing is not a failure. Failure is not try to win.”

Despite showing their dominance in offence, Belgium lost their semi-final match after conceding a goal from a corner kick. But the team bounced back in the third-place match to showcase a wonderful performance to earn the victory.

Written by OSUMI Yoshiyuki (Football Journalist)

*This article was originally posted on the Japan Football Association Newsletter, “JFAnews,” February 2019 edition.

Japan Football Association Newsletter “JFAnews”

The Japan Football Association Newsletter “JFAnews” contains all the information on the Japan National Team, and all the events hosted by the JFA. Tournament results and team information throughout the nation are also available. The official monthly magazine is a must read for coaches, referees, and all members of the football family.

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