【Match Report】SAMURAI BLUE draw with Uruguay National Team thanks to Nishimura's equaliser
25 March 2023
SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) played Uruguay National Team in the KIRIN CHALLENGE CUP 2023 at Japan National Stadium in Tokyo on Friday 24 March. In their first match since the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, Japan drew the match 1-1 thanks to the 75th minute equaliser scored by NISHIMURA Takuma (Yokohama F. Marinos).
The newly assembled Japan National Team played aggressively in their first international match since Covid-19 prevention measures were lifted to allow vocal support from all seats, as the 61,855 spectators who filled Japan National Stadium cheered and chanted “Nippon” throughout the match. Despite allowing their opponents to take the lead in the first half, they made the most of their substitutions in the second half to spark a late comeback reminiscent of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
Japan entered the match with a 4-2-3-1 formation with SCHMIDT Daniel (Sint-Truidense VV) defending the goal behind a defence line consisting of SUGAWARA Yukinari (AZ Alkmaar), ITAKURA Kou (Borussia MG), SEKO Ayumu (Grasshopper CZ), and ITO Hiroki (VfB Stuttgart), while ENDO Wataru (VfB Stuttgart) and MORITA Hidemasa (Sporting CP) anchored the midfield. In the attacking third, DOAN Ritsu (SC Freiburg), KAMADA Daichi (Eintracht Frankfurt), and MITOMA Kaoru (Brighton & Hove Albion FC) started in midfield with ASANO Takuma (VfL Bochum) serving as the lone striker.
From the early minutes, Mitoma demonstrated his dribbling skills to penetrate the left flank, as the Brighton winger created multiple chances, while Sugawara and Doan combined on the right flank to close in on the opposing goal.
In the 12th minute, the ball was connected through the left side to setup the shot of Asano, and in the 22nd minute, a through-ball was delivered by Sugawara to allow Asano to break into the open space, but both of his attempts were off the mark.
Japan continued to put pressure on their opponents, winning the ball and sending cross-balls across the face of the goal, but were thwarted by Uruguay's solid defence.
Uruguay also pressed from their front line and made quick transitions between offence and defence, with members of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ team, including Facundo PELLISTRI (Manchester United), Maximiliano GOMEZ (Trabzonspor) and Federico VALVERDE (Real Madrid), initiating the attacks, especially down the right flank.
In the 38th minute of the first half, Uruguay won the ball in midfield and played it down the right flank. Gomez's cross took a deflection off a Japanese defender and floated towards goal, where Valverde met with a right footed volley. Although this shot went off the right post, Valverde reacted sharply to the rebound and headed home the ball to give Uruguay the lead.
With a one-goal lead, Uruguay continued to close in on the Japanese goal in the second half, but the Japanese defenders responded calmly and quickly initiated counterattacks from their clearances.
In the 54th minute, Mitoma received the ball from a clearance, broke through the middle, and connected with Asano, who fired a shot at goal, but his effort was blocked by the opposing goalkeeper Sergio ROCHET (Nacional).
In the 61st minute ITO Junya (Stade de Reims) and UEDA Ayase (Cercle Brugge KSV) were introduced off the bench, which added more speed to the offence, as Ito broke through the right flank to give Japan more chances in front of goal. Four minutes after the substitution, Ito was awarded a penalty kick when he responded to a ball laid off by Ueda and entered the box, where he was brought down by a defender. However, after an on-field review by the VAR, the referee overturned the ruling on the field to revoke the PK.
Japan, looking to catch up, continued to attack with speed and in the 74th minute sent off TANAKA Ao (Fortuna Dusseldorf) and Nishimura from the bench.
The game was levelled shortly afterwards when the ball was connected through Tanaka, Sugawara, and Ito, before it was delivered to Nishimura, who met with his left foot in front of goal to send it into the net.
Uruguay continued to work hard right to the end and came close to scoring against Japan, with Facundo TORRES (Orlando City SC) hitting the left post with a shot in the 85th minute, but Japan did not allow any more goals, as the match ended 1-1.
The Japan National Team will play the Colombia National Team at Yodoko Sakura Stadium in Osaka in the second match of the KIRIN CHALLENGE CUP 2023 on Tuesday 28 March.
Coaches and Players' Comments
MORIYASU Hajime, Head Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
It is a pity that we could not deliver a victory to our supporters, but we fought tenaciously and tried out our new attacking and defensive shapes even when we were behind. We were greatly encouraged by the cheers of our supporters, and we are grateful for that. When looking at our squad, there are some players who lacked experience, especially when compared to the squad we had before the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, but this group was so united and committed to do well in today’s match and to strengthen the team ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2026™, that you could not feel any difference in the way they played and in the intensity they showed on the pitch. In order for Japan to be competitive at the international level, we would like to have a deeper player pool, and in that sense, I think the new players have shown great potential and their desire to take on new challenges. At this period, we are focusing on the shape of our offence involving the side-backs and how to try to utilise the width of the pitch. Against a world-class team like Uruguay, the players rose to the challenge and did well despite the difficulties, increasing the tempo and using their creativity to improve the flow of the game. With “challenge” being the key word leading up to 2026, the players stayed focused, were not satisfied with the status quo, and took on a good challenge. There are many areas that need to be addressed, but I think it was a good start. Nishimura's goal was a good example of the players picking the right moment to attack as they got into the flow of the game and capitalise on an opportunity to break through from the flanks. It was not an easy goal, but Nishimura did well to stay focused and react to the ball.
DF #2 SUGAWARA Yukinari (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands)
I tried to play to my strengths when I had the ball, but I don't think I was able to do that. We are working on new ways of doing things as a team, but I should have been more involved in the build-ups from behind, finding open spaces to distribute the ball, and create more chances from the flank. (Reflecting on the goal scene) I saw Ito making the run when I had the ball, and I think I was able to send the ball where I wanted it to go. It was helped by Ito's speed, but it is positive that it led to a goal.
DF #4 ITAKURA Kou (Borussia MG/Germany)
Today we were rejuvenated with some new players, so I made a conscious effort to play while communicating with them at all times. We really wanted to win, but I think everyone fought with poise. I believe we are making progress with our build-ups from behind, especially considering that this is the first time we have tried it. Since it is only natural for us to feel that some things are still not going well, we must continue to work on these issues and expand upon them. Even though it was challenging, we managed to attempt it. Now we just need to figure out how to address the problems we saw today.
MF/FW #7 NAKAMURA Keito (LASK/Austria)
I think I was able to get a sense of what it takes to compete at the world’s top level through today’s match. I only played for two or three minutes, but there is a big difference between being out there and not being out there at all, so it gave me a lot of confidence. Winning a single duel can make a world of difference to how I feel going into the next match against Colombia, so I am grateful to be given the opportunity to play in my first call-up to the national team.
MF/FW #8 DOAN Ritsu (SC Freiburg/Germany)
We tested what we were trying to do, including the options, but I don't think it worked that well, partly because of the way our opponents set up their defence. We were a bit isolated on the flanks and didn't have many options, so I think that's an issue we need to address. We feel like we can show our quality if we can pin down our opponents, but we were possessing the ball too low. However, considering that we couldn’t even possess the ball at the World Cup, I think our awareness of trying to hold the ball up was good. We are determined to play an active role in the World Cup, so we have to work on those issues, while also keeping in mind of the fundamentals, because today we lacked the intensity in defence and were slow in making transitions between offence and defence.
MF/FW #9 MITOMA Kaoru (Brighton & Hove Albion FC/England)
There were difficulties in the first half in terms of how we linked up and interacted with each other in the build-ups from behind. Especially because there were times when there was no one around me when I got the ball. However, we are still in the process of challenging ourselves, so I think it's totally fine. I think that if we continue to try out different tactics as a team, we will get better and better as a team. We weren't able to get the results we wanted, but I hope it will lead us to a better result the next time around.
MF/FW #19 NISHIMURA Takuma (Yokohama F. Marinos)
Ito delivered a perfect pass, so I just needed to make contact with the ball. There was a similar scene in practice the day before, and we talked about how we need to make plays like that in the match today, so it made us realise the importance to communicate more. The new players really need to step it up for the team, so in that sense I think this was a good start. There is something to be learned from every single play at the national team. I am confident that I can compete at this level, so I hope to continue to deliver results in the coming matches.
Marcelo BROLI, Acting Coach of Uruguay National Team
I think we played a good game. We were able to build some good attacks and scored a goal through quick transitions between defence and offence. We entered the game with the intention of winning the ball as soon as possible, and I believe we were successful in presenting Japan with a challenging task. We studied how Japan played at the World Cup and came up with a game plan to apply high pressure and not to give them any space. The players did a good job despite the lack of practice time.
SAMURAI BLUE vs Uruguay National Team
Date: Friday 24 March 2023, 19:30 (subject to change)
Venue: Japan National Stadium, Tokyo
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