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【Match Report】SAMURAI BLUE start group stage with a historic comeback victory over Germany at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™

24 November 2022

【Match Report】SAMURAI BLUE start group stage with a historic comeback victory over Germany at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™

The SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team), who are seeking to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in team history, got off to a flying start at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ with a victory over Germany in their opening group stage match on Wednesday 23 November at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha. The team overcame a deficit to win 2-1 thanks to the goals from DOAN Ritsu (SC Freiburg) and ASANO Takuma (VfL Bochum), two of their second half substitutes.

The Japan National Team made an impact on the stage of the World Cup with a late comeback against the mighty Germans, who have won the tournament four times since the West Germany era.

In the opening match of Group E, Japan’s Head Coach MORIYASU Hajime started GONDA Shuichi (Shimizu S-Pulse) in goal with SAKAI Hiroki (Urawa Red Diamonds), ITAKURA Kou (Borussia MG), YOSHIDA Maya (FC Schalke 04), and NAGATOMO Yuto (FC Tokyo) forming the four-man defence line. ENDO Wataru (VfB Stuttgart) and TANAKA Ao (Fortuna Dusseldorf) were given the start as defensive midfielders with ITO Junya (Stade de Reims), KAMADA Daichi (Eintracht Frankfurt), and KUBO Takefusa (Real Sociedad) positioned beneath the lone striker MAEDA Daizen (Celtic FC).

The match started with Germany taking the initiative by controlling the ball possession and creating chances from the outset while Japan showed great concentration to keep the Germans from breaching their goal line. Japan nearly took the lead in the eighth minute, when Kamada won the ball and carried it up the field before finding Ito, who delivered a cross that was converted by Maeda inside the box, but the play was called offside.

As the Germans gradually increased their dominance in ball possession, Japan repeatedly made runs down the line to seek out their chances but were unsuccessful in doing so.

David RAUM's overlapping runs troubled the Japanese defence, and Jamal MUSIALA and Ilkay GUNDOGAN frequently fired shots from midfield to pose a threat to the Japanese goal.

Despite the tenacious efforts made by Gonda and the Japanese defence line, their clean sheet was swept away at the half hour mark, when Joshua KIMMICH delivered a lobbing pass to Raum who made a run inside the box to induce a foul by Gonda. With Gundogan successfully converting from the spot, Germany took the lead in the 33rd minute.

Germany almost doubled their lead just before the break, when Kai HAVERTZ converted the cross sent by Serge GNABRY, but the goal was disallowed after the play ruled offside via VAR.

Trailing by a goal, Japan started their rally in the second half.

In efforts to revitalise their offence, coach Moriyasu introduced TOMIYASU Takehiro (Arsenal) to start the second half and shifted their system to a 3-4-3 formation. MITOMA Kaoru (Brighton & Hove Albion FC) and Asano were also brought on in the 57th minute to add more layers to their offence.

A close opportunity was created by Germany in the 71st minute, just minutes after Jonas HOFMANN and Leon GORETZKA were introduced. The play started with Kimmich delivering a lobbing pass into the box, in which Gnabry laid off to setup the shot of Hofmann. After making the save to deny this shot, Gonda made three consecutive key saves to prevent Germany from extending their lead.

Doan entered the match to replace Tanaka shortly after this play, causing Kamada to move back to the defensive midfield position and Ito to move inside to play as the left shadow striker. This change almost came to fruition in the 73rd minute, when Ito received the ball from Endo and struck a shot from close range. After German goalkeeper Manuel NEUER made a spectacular save, Sakai rushed in to convert the deflection but failed to hit the target.

With the intention of adding more firepower to their offence, coach Moriyasu sent MINAMINO Takumi (AS Monaco) off the bench in the 75th minute, shifting Ito to the right full back position. And this time, the substitution took an immediate effect.

Mitoma carried the ball down the left side before delivering a through ball into the box that allowed Minamino to send a fast driven cross towards the goal. Although Neuer was able to parry the ball out of the goalmouth, Doan quickly responded to the deflection to score the equaliser.

German Coach Hansi FLICK quickly responded by sending Mario GOTZE and Niclas FULLKRUG onto the pitch, but it was Japan who scored the next goal.

The decisive goal came from a free kick taken by Itakura deep inside the Japanese half. Asano took a spectacular touch to control the long feed and dribbled into the box, before firing a shot that pierced the near upper corner of the German goal.

With the stadium rocking to the cheers of the 42,608 spectators, Germany, hoping to avoid losing their second consecutive opening group stage match at the World Cup, rallied in the closing minutes, but fell short from scoring against the Japanese defence, who kept their focus until the very end.

As a result, Japan started the group stage with a historic comeback victory over Germany under the leadership of coach Moriyasu, who was one of the players who experienced the “Agony of Doha” 30 years ago. This will certainly give Japan a flying start towards their goal of reaching the World Cup quarterfinals and beyond.

On this day, Spain showcased a dominating performance to defeat Costa Rica 7-0, which puts them in first place of Group E, with Japan, Germany, and Costa Rica following in the respective order.

Japan will now face Costa Rica on Sunday 27 November.

Coaches and Players’ Comments

MORIYASU Hajime, Head Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
We intended to start the match aggressively, and from there we would base our decision on whether we could take the initiative or were being suppressed by the opponents. We anticipated that our opponents would control the ball possession, which is exactly what happened, so we were prepared to seek for our opportunities to attack while playing patient defence. Although we were outmatched in the first half, I believe the players fought with patience, composure, and wisdom, reading the opponents' intentions and understanding that the tide would turn if we persisted in our efforts, regardless of the score of 0-1, 0-2, or even 0-3. I told the players before the match and at halftime that they would have a chance in the second half if they continued to fight hard and tenaciously as a team. We changed our system in the second half because our opponents were effectively utilising the width of the pitch. We were confident as a team that if we played good defence we could win possession of the ball, and the players responded well. The players played with great aggression and showcased how much they have improved by outperforming their opponents at the individual level, which led us to this result. After the match, I told the players not to get caught up in the moment and instead focus on getting the best possible preparation for the upcoming match against Costa Rica. It is not an exaggeration to say that it was a historic victory and moment, but I don't think it was unexpected given how Japanese football has developed and how many players are currently succeeding on the international stage. This victory was made possible with the support of everyone involved in Japanese football, the football family, the supporters, and the nation. I would like to express my gratitude once again.

GK #12 GONDA Shuichi (Shimizu S-Pulse)
I gave away a penalty that ruined the team's game plan, but we kept reminding each other that if we can keep the score close, we will have a chance to outrun our opponents. (Regarding the four consecutive saves) I was just desperate at the moment. My job is to stop shots that are on target, regardless of the situation. The players who came on as substitutes decided the game for us, which is not an easy thing to do. Doan always told me at the dinner table, “I'm going to come off the bench and score a goal.” I think that kind of attitude was a factor in changing the momentum of the game, and it was a match that proved that the Japan National Team is competing with all 26 players. In our next match against Costa Rica, I think our opponents will have a completely different approach to the game. It will be even more important not to concede the first goal. We will have to make lots of adjustments, down to the smallest details.

FP #8 DOAN Ritsu (SC Freiburg/Germany)
I was surprisingly calm when I scored the goal. The coach told me that the game has opened up so don’t hesitate to take shots. I've been away from the national team for a while, and the ball hasn't rolled in my favour for the past three or four years, so I was glad when it came my way today. It made all the training that I've been doing worthwhile. I was like, "Thank you very much!” The tide was gradually turning our way, so I went on the pitch thinking "I'm going to be the hero." I spent the last four or five days at the hotel visualising this kind of situation, so I'm glad it turned out the way it did. Once we took the lead, I made a conscious effort to work hard in the match-up against Raum. I think this was a victory earned by the team’s preparation because everything went according to our plan and the things we discussed in our meetings.

FP #10 MINAMINO Takumi (AS Monaco/France)
I am honestly very happy with this result. The players who came off the bench made the difference in this match, demonstrating the depth of our team. I had a feeling that Mitoma would make something happen when he had the ball in that spot, and he timed his pass perfectly. I didn't see what was going on inside the box, but I thought if I hit a fast driven shot towards the goal, it might take a deflection off the goalkeeper, so I just hit the ball believing that someone would get to the end of it, and Doan did indeed convert the goal for us. Even though there were many challenging moments throughout the match, we all strongly believed that we had something to show for. I also believe that football has these kinds of moments that cannot be quantified by numbers. This result was only made possible because of the big saves made by Gonda. It was a goal scored by all the players, not only the attackers but also the defenders, who performed really well.

FP #18 ASANO Takuma (VfL Bochum/Germany)
I think all the work I had put in led to this result. I was determined to score a goal when I entered the pitch. I first thought I might had been offside, so I couldn’t celebrate for real, but once it was confirmed, I felt ecstatic. I knew that the ball was coming to me as soon as Itakura picked up the ball. We saw each other every day during rehabilitation and encouraged each other that we could do it, so I think this is one of the results of our preparation. For the past four years, without missing a single day, I have imagined and prepared for a moment like this. As usual, the coach told me to give my all on the pitch and score a goal for the team before sending me off the bench. I thought we were very much still in the game at 0-1, and I was talking with Minamino and Doan that we definitely had a chance to win the match. The three of us happened to be involved in the goals, but we all believed that we could do it.

FP #22 YOSHIDA Maya (FC Schalke 04/Germany)
I am pleased with the way our team played patiently in accordance with our game plan to achieve this victory. However, I don't want to get ahead of myself because we have only won one match. We must concentrate on our tasks at hand and prepare for the upcoming match against Costa Rica. I am really happy that Asano, who was not selected for the last tournament, and Doan, who had a stint where he struggled to do well with the national team, have both achieved results. (Regarding Germany’s potential second goal that was disallowed by VAR) We wanted to minimise the damage in the first half, so I think that was a huge turning point for us. The changes we made during halftime was part of our plan, and I think we did a great job executing our game plan as a team. Since it was my third time participating in this tournament, I was able to focus on what I needed to do and was feeling calm before the match. I also felt good on the bus ride into the stadium, so I believe I was in a good frame of mind to face the match.

Hansi FLICK, Head Coach of Germany National Team
With this defeat and zero points, we are under pressure, no question about it. And we can only blame ourselves. We were on the right path in the first half, we had 78 per cent possession and were ahead 1-0. Then we had good chances in the second half that we didn't take advantage of. Japan were simply more efficient today. We made mistakes that we should never commit especially in a World Cup and those are the things that we need to improve on.

TASHIMA Kohzo, JFA President
Even though we have only played one match, we could not have been more pleased with our performance in taking three points from a former World Cup champion in our opening match of the competition. This victory is even more significant in light of how much we have learned from Germany, starting with Mr. Cramer. I think the players played very well and with great composure. The decisions made by Coach Moriyasu were excellent, and I believed that today's victory was the result of all the work we had put in leading to this tournament. I also believe that the defeat to Belgium had given us the experience we needed to maintain our lead at the end today. I hope that the children in Japan will be talking about this match at school tomorrow.

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™

Tournament Dates: Sun. 20 November - Sun. 18 December 2022
[Group Stage]
1st Match: Wed. 23 November 16:00 [Local Time] vs Germany National Team
2nd Match: Sun. 27 November 13:00 [Local Time] vs Costa Rica National Team
3rd Match: Thu. 1 December 22:00 [Local Time] vs Spain National Team

Tournament Information

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