SAMURAI BLUE earns victory with Nagai’s brace at the KIRIN CHALLENGE CUP 2019
10 June 2019
On Sunday 9 June, the SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) faced the El Salvador National Team in the KIRIN CHALLENGE CUP 2019 held at Hitomebore Stadium Miyagi. The team earned a 2-0 victory, thanks to the brace scored by NAGAI Kensuke (F.C. Tokyo), and the 18-year-old phenom, KUBO Takefusa (F.C. Tokyo) made his national team debut as a late substitute.
With the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup 2022 scheduled in November, coach MORIYASU Hajime once again tried out the three-back formation, after implementing the new system for the first time in the match against Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday 5. The starting line-up saw six changes from their previous match, as the two newly appointed wingbacks, HARAGUCHI Genki (Hannover 96) and ITO Junya (K.R.C. Genk) showed great speed at the flanks to combine with the three attacking players, Nagai, MINAMINO Takumi (FC Red Bull Salzburg), and DOAN Ritsu (FC Groningen) to create opportunities.
In the 19th minute, defender TOMIYASU Takehiro (Sint-Truidense V.V.) delivered a through ball into the open space behind the opposing defence line, allowing Nagai to break into the penalty box. After shaking off two defenders with a cut back, Nagai struck a shot with his left foot to score his first ever goal with the national team, giving Japan a 1-0 lead. Another opportunity was created in the 35th minute, when the ball was connected through HASHIMOTO Kento (F.C. Tokyo) and Minamino, before the ball found Nagai, but this time his attempt was saved by the opposing goalkeeper. Two minutes later, Minamino struck a header off a cross delivered by KOBAYASHI Yuki (SC Heerenveen) from the left side, but his effort was also saved by the goalkeeper.
With the CONCACAF Gold Cup 2019 scheduled in a week, El Salvador made attempts to construct their attacks from short passes while sending long balls to penetrate the open space behind the Japanese defence line. Midfielder Oscar CEREN made numerous runs to break through, but the Japanese defence line, led by HATANAKA Shinnosuke (Yokohama F･Marinos), responded well to keep the Central American side from creating goal scoring opportunities. After dominating most part of the first half, Japan doubled their lead in the 41st minute, when Haraguchi responded to a through ball delivered by Hatanaka. The veteran midfielder chased the ball deep into the penalty area, before cutting the ball back towards the centre, where Nagai made a run to score his second goal of the match.
After ending the first half with a 2-0 lead, Japan continued to show their dominance in the second half. Defender SHOJI Gen (Toulouse Football Club) connected with a free kick delivered by Ito in the 49th minute, followed by a shot taken by Minamino, but both attempts fell short from capturing the goal. In the 59th minute, Nagai was forced to sub off the field after making hard contact with the opponent and injured his shoulder. At this moment, coach Moriyasu made the decision to bring in three new players and switch their system to a four-back formation. It was OSAKO Yuya (Werder Bremen), who was brought in to replace Nagai, while YAMANAKA Ryosuke (Urawa Red Diamonds) and MUROYA Sei (F.C. Tokyo) were positioned in the fullback positions.
El Salvador struck their only shot of the match in the 66th minute. The shot came when Nelson BONILLA made a move from the left to the centre, allowing Jonathan JIMENEZ to take a shot at goal, but his attempt failed to hit the target.
Japan made two more substitutes in the 67th minute, as Kubo and NAKAJIMA Shoya (Al Duhail SC) were brought in to replace Minamino and Haraguchi. At 18 years and 5 days, Kubo became the second youngest player to earn a cap for the Japan National Team. The 18-year-old phenom was positioned as the attacking midfield position and got himself involved in many plays, as he combined with the other attacking players. Six minutes after entering the match, Kubo combined with Osako before taking on two defenders and struck a shot. In the 79th minute, he responded to a free kick delivered by Kobayashi to deliver a cut back towards the centre, and the crowd erupted every time Kubo made an attempt towards the goal.
Osako had his moment in the 76th minute, when he received a lobbing pass from Kobayashi and struck a shot from the right side of the penalty area. The shot ricocheted off the goalkeeper and rolled towards the open goal, but Juan Carlos PORTILLO made a sliding effort to keep the ball away from the goal. Nakajima made a dribbling effort in the 90th minute, where he was fouled to earn a free kick at the edge of the penalty arc. Nakajima took the free kick himself, but his attempt sailed over the crossbar, as Japan finished the match with a final score of 2-0.
The current squad has now finished the entire team schedule, and nine of the players including Kubo and SHIBASAKI Gaku (Getafe C.F.) will now join the rest of the selected squad for the CONMEBOL Copa America 2019, which will kick-off on Friday 14 June at Brazil.
Coaches and Players' Comments
MORIYASU Hajime, Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
We entered the match with the intention to improve on our performance shown at the first match and win the match with the newly implemented three-back formation. It was a difficult challenge, but the players did well to stay positive and show a persistent effort to earn this victory. Both goals came from an attack created by a delivery from the defence line, so we hope to build on this new system to improve the quality of our attacks. Even after we switched back to a four-back formation, the players stayed on the same page and played with great composure to earn a shutout victory. However, our goal is set at a much higher level, so we will strive to win matches at higher competitions. Our three-back formation is far from being perfect, but the players have shown its potential through these matches. The fact that we managed to switch the formation without any problems and responded well towards unexpected situations gives us hope for the future events. Nagai was able to integrate his strengths to the team concept and showed great effectiveness in today’s match. Kubo also did well to display his ability, as he worked well with his teammates to showcase his techniques and intelligence.
DF #16 TOMIYASU Takehiro (Sint-Truidense V.V.)
I am glad my pass ended up assisting one of our goals. The fact that we were able to test out the three-back formation in a real match situation gives us great confidence moving forward. The new system has its own merits, and even though I wasn’t able to get the ball through today, if I can deliver the long balls to switch the sides, we can add more options to our offence. Regardless of our system, the basic concept does not change. While we maintain our team concept, we hope to strengthen the positives of each system.
MF #14 ITO Junya (K.R.C. Genk)
I kept talking with Tomiyasu and focused on keeping my position high, even if that meant we had to take risks. Our coach told us to stay wide, so that’s another thing I kept in mind. I felt like I could have done a little better, but I was able to create some good opportunities and I am satisfied with my overall performance at this new position. I am confident that I can showcase my strengths at other positions, so I hope I can make myself a strong option at the wingback position as well.
MF #27 KUBO Takefusa (F.C. Tokyo)
I am glad I was given the opportunity to play today. I was really able to hear the crowd and felt the expectations from the supporters. It helped that I was able to get myself involved with players like Doan and Muroya in my first few plays, because they have a very distinct play style. The coach told me to just have fun, so that really helped me ease into the match, too. Although it was a short period of time, I felt like I was able to showcase what I am capable of.
FW #13 NAGAI Kensuke (F.C. Tokyo)
I have been positioned in the flanks before, and this was my first time playing as a forward. I was really happy to be given this opportunity, because I consider it to be my strong position. Knowing that everybody on this team is capable of delivering the final pass, I entered the match with the intention to exploit the space behind the defenders at all times. Playing for the national team has given me great inspiration and I hope to become a player that can always provide goals. The things I have been working on at my club is helping me strive at this level, so I am thankful of my teammates at F.C. Tokyo.
Carlos de los COBOS, Coach of El Salvador National Team
Japan has many talented players and they have a great coach as well. With this being their home match, we knew it was going to be a very tough match. We focused heavily on our defensive organisation and entered the match with the intention to stop Japan from building their speed and momentum, but their three-back formation allowed them to utilise the width of the field effectively and made it very difficult for us to play against. Although it was a tough match, our players worked hard until the end and I am satisfied with our overall performance. This match gave us a great learning experience.
SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) vs Trinidad and Tobago National Team
Match Date: Wed. 5 June 2019 Kick-off time 19:30
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Aichi
SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) vs El Salvador National Team
Match Date: Sun. 9 June 2019 Kick-off 19:00
Venue: Hitomebore Stadium Miyagi, Miyagi
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