SAMURAI BLUE eliminated at the group stage after 1-1 draw against Ecuador - CONMEBOL Copa America Brazil 2019
25 June 2019
On Monday 24 June, the SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) played their third group stage match of the CONMEBOL Copa America Brazil 2019 against the Ecuador National Team. With both teams needing a win to advance through to the knockout stage, the match ended in a 1-1 draw, eliminating both teams at the group stage.
Following their 2-2 draw against Uruguay, Japan started a similar line-up in their match against Ecuador held at Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte. With KAWASHIMA Eiji (RC Strasbourg) starting in goal, IWATA Tomoki (Oita Trinita), UEDA Naomichi (Cercle Brugge K.S.V.), TOMIYASU Takehiro (Sint-Truidense V.V.), and SUGIOKA Daiki (Shonan Bellmare) formed the four-man defence line. While SHIBASAKI Gaku (Getafe C.F.) and ITAKURA Kou (FC Groningen) were positioned as the defensive midfield position, MIYOSHI Koji (Yokohama F・Marinos), NAKAJIMA Shoya (Al Duhail SC), and KUBO Takefusa (Real Madrid) played as the attacking midfielders with OKAZAKI Shinji (Leicester City Football Club) named as the lone striker.
In a match where both teams needed a win to survive, Ecuador came out applying high pressure in the early minutes to take the initiative of the match. For a while, Japan struggled to connect their passes, but eventually found their rhythm to carry the ball upfront to create chances. In the 15th minute, an opportunity was created when Okazaki chased a through ball delivered by Nakajima. The play forced the opposing goalkeeper to come out of the box to clear the ball, but Nakajima was there to collect this clearance and strike a shot into the open net. The play was initially called offsides, but after being reviewed by the VAR, the goal was allowed, giving Japan an early lead.
Following this goal, the match saw Ecuador take control of the ball. In the 35th minute, Ecuador created an opportunity from a long delivery from the right flank. After taking a deflection, the ball fell in front of Romario IBARRA, allowing the attacker to take a shot inside the box. Despite the effort made by Kawashima to parry the ball, Angel MENA was there to convert the loose ball to equalise the match.
Starting from the second half, Ecuador added another player in the defensive midfield position to contain the Japanese offence, while applying more pressure upfront. In response, Japan brought in UEDA Ayase (Hosei University) in the 66th minute to rejuvenate their offence. Soon after getting introduced to the match, Ueda got himself involved in some close opportunities, but fell short from capitalising on the chances.
With both teams desperately needing a win, the final minutes of the match saw an intense battle between the two sides. In the 90th minute, MAEDA Daizen (Matsumoto Yamaga FC) responded to a through ball delivered by Kubo and struck a shot. His effort was denied by the opposing goalkeeper, and Ueda followed up on the loose ball to fire another shot, but his attempt failed to hit the target. With seconds left on the clock, Kubo shook the net with his shot, but the play was called back for offsides.
The match ended with a 1-1 draw, eliminating both Japan and Ecuador from the CONMEBOL Copa America Brazil 2019. After playing three matches at the group stage, Japan left the tournament with a record of one loss and two draws.
Following the match, coach MORIYASU Hajime praised his team, “Our players showed great improvements over the three matches,” and continued by mentioning, “We must acknowledge the fact that we weren’t able to win any matches and learn from this experience to become a better team.” The Japanese coach concluded by stating his gratitude towards the tournament, “We were given the opportunity to play football under a wonderful environment and the supporters showcased an enormous amount of enthusiasm. We were honoured to take part in this wonderful tournament.”
Coach and Players' Comments
MORIYASU Hajime, Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
I’m proud of my players for giving their utmost efforts until the end. Our opponents made a change in their system during this match, but our players managed to make the necessary adjustments to respond to this change. We also faced a tough stretch where our opponent took control of the match, but we managed to showcase great persistency to keep the match within our reach. We must obtain the strengths to defend through the tough stretches, create opportunities even under pressure, and convert those chances to win the match. It felt like this was a match “We couldn’t win,” rather than a match “We didn’t lose.” And I know our players are feeling the same way, too. There is a big difference between, “Almost a win” and a “Win.” But the players showed great improvements and confidence during this tournament. It felt like the gap between Asian and the rest of the world is getting closer.
DF #2 SUGIOKA Daiki (Shonan Bellmare)
I need to deliver more crosses while heightening the quality of my plays to become a bigger threat to the opponents. I was given the opportunity to play with Okazaki, and he taught us the importance of having a strong point as a player. He also showed a higher standard in the overall performance on the field. His performance allowed me to realise that I need to heighten the quality of my performance in order to compete at the world level. Once I return to my club, I will implement what I’ve learned here and continue to strive to get called up to the national team.
DF #16 TOMIYASU Takehiro (Sint-Truidense V.V.)
I believe that it is impossible to play perfectly in a match. In each match, there will be room for improvements, and that is why we must continue to make adjustments after each match. Following our first match, we focused on keeping a high defence line. Today, we faced an opponent that utilised long balls to exploit the space behind us. We did struggle for a while, but we kept making the efforts to maintain the defence line at a high position. Both sides created many opportunities, and the match came down to who was able to capitalise on those chances.
MF #7 SHIBASAKI Gaku (Getafe C.F.)
(After being named as the team captain) I felt trusted by the coach and played with the responsibility to lead the team. I hope that these younger players can continue to compete at these world stages. For everyone on this team, including those who didn’t play in the matches, this was a meaningful tournament for us. (Despite seeing much playing time at the club) I wanted to be able to showcase my ability in situations like this, just as any professional football player would do.
MF #21 KUBO Takefusa (Real Madrid)
We both created opportunities until the very end, and with both teams just a goal away from advancing through to the knockout stage, the match was surrounded by a very tense atmosphere. We ended up drawing the match, but I feel like we were able to give our very best efforts in this match. Of course, this was a disappointing result, but after playing in two full matches and making one substitute appearance, I was given the opportunity to play against rare opponents and I enjoyed the whole experience. The enthusiasm surrounding the tournament was incredible and it gave me a fascinating experience.
FW #18 OKAZAKI Shinji (Leicester City Football Club)
I played with the intention to allow the young players to receive the ball where they wanted. At a personal level, I want to be able to have more variations to my shooting patterns, so that I can create more opportunities for my team. I felt the need to become a more dangerous player that can threaten the opposing goal.
CONMEBOL Copa America Brazil 2019
Tournament Dates: Fri. 14 June - Sun. 7 July 2019
Tue. 18 June 2019, 8:00 (Japan time)
vs Chile National Team
Fri. 21 June 2019, 8:00 (Japan time)
vs Uruguay National Team
Tue. 25 June 2019, 8:00 (Japan time)
vs Ecuador National Team
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