【Match Report】3-1 win over Bahrain sends SAMURAI BLUE through to the quarterfinals of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023
01 February 2024
SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) played their first match of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 knockout stage on Wednesday, 31 January, defeating Bahrain 3-1 thanks to goals from DOAN Ritsu (SC Freiburg), KUBO Takefusa (Real Sociedad) and UEDA Ayase (Feyenoord). They will now face IR Iran in the quarter-finals on Saturday, 3 February.
There was only one change to the starting line-up from the win over Indonesia on Wednesday, 24 January, with ITAKURA Kou (Borussia MG) starting at centre-back. HATATE Reo (Celtic FC) anchored the midfield alongside ENDO Wataru (Liverpool FC) in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the Celtic man pushing forward in attack to change the formation when the team went forward.
After losing 1-3 to Korea Republic, Bahrain bounced back with successive wins over Malaysia and Jordan to finish top of Group E and reach the knockout stages of the Asian Cup for the second tournament running.
Under Argentine coach Juan Antonio PIZZI, who last led Saudi Arabia against Japan in the round of 16 of the 2019 tournament, Hazaa ALI has been given the start as left-back since the team’s win over Jordan.
Bahrain began the match by man-marking the Japanese attackers, while Abdulla Yusuf HELAL and Mohamed MARHOON looked for chances in attack, but the Japanese defence, led by TOMIYASU Takehiro (Arsenal), showed great composure to keep their opponents at bay.
The opening goal came in the 31st minute when MAIKUMA Seiya (Cerezo Osaka) latched onto a pass from Endo before unleashing a thunderous shot from distance. The defender's shot hit the post, but Doan was there to pounce on the rebound and slot the ball into the net.
Moments later, Hatate was forced off with an apparent injury as MORITA Hidemasa (Sporting CP) came off the bench to replace him in midfield.
Leading 1-0 at the break, Japan doubled their advantage in the 49th minute when Kubo forced a turnover in the opposition’s half and sent a pass into the middle which deflected off a Bahrain defender and back to him, allowing the midfielder to slot the ball into the far corner. Although the goal was ruled offside, the decision on the pitch was overturned after a VAR review, and the goal stood to put Japan two up.
It wasn't all plain sailing for Japan, however, as Bahrain scored from a corner in the 64th minute when Ueda collided with his goalkeeper SUZUKI Zion (Sint-Truidense VV) while trying to clear the ball from the goalmouth, resulting in an own goal.
Coach MORIYASU Hajime brought on MITOMA Kaoru (Brighton & Hove Albion FC) and MINAMINO Takumi (AS Monaco) after 67 minutes in a bid to boost his side's attacking options, which led to Ueda's 72nd-minute goal when the striker latched onto Maikuma's pass, beat three defenders and shot between the legs of the goalkeeper to make it 3-1.
In response to Bahrain's attempt to increase their attacking options in the closing stages, Japan brought on MACHIDA Koki (Royale Union Saint-Gilloise) to change their formation to a three-man defence, while also bringing on ASANO Takuma (VfL Bochum) up front.
Despite creating number of close chances from counterattacks, Japan were unable to add to their tally as they booked their place in the quarterfinals with a 3-1 win.
Japan's next opponents are IR Iran, who beat Syria 5-3 on penalties after the match ended 1-1 after extra time.
Elsewhere, first-timer qualifiers Tajikistan beat the UAE on penalties, Jordan beat Iraq 3-2 and Australia beat Indonesia 4-0. Korea Republic won 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 extra-time draw with Saudi Arabia, hosts Qatar beat Palestine 2-1 and Uzbekistan beat Thailand 2-1 to book their place in the quarterfinals.
Apart from the Japan-IR Iran match on Saturday, 3 February, the quarterfinal pairings are Tajikistan and Jordan, Australia and Korea Republic on Friday, 2 February and Qatar and Uzbekistan on Saturday, 3 February.
Coaches and Players' Comments
MORIYASU Hajime, Head Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
I think we were able to achieve this result because the players were able to sort out the successes and challenges they had faced throughout the competition and create a good energy over the last six days. We let our opponents get a bit of momentum at the start of the game against Iraq, so it was good to see our players play aggressively from the start today against another Middle Eastern team. Against a defensively solid Bahrain side who were looking for chances to counterattack, we made a conscious effort to spread the field and be patient in our search for opportunities, while also taking our chances to shoot from distance, which I believe led to the first goal. The players also showed great aggression when the opposition came out to attack in the second half. Defensively, I thought we did what we wanted to do in terms of challenging for the ball and picking up the second balls. However, we are not completely satisfied with the result, as we need to reflect on the goal we conceded. The fact that the players collided when they were trying to play the ball is not a bad thing, but we will use this experience to communicate better in future games. We don't know whether we'll face IR Iran or Syria next, but both teams have strong talent up front. We need to play them at a higher level than we did today. We will prepare well for each of the remaining games and give it our all.
DF #22 TOMIYASU Takehiro (Arsenal/England)
It is great to be through to the next round. Our opponents had a simple approach, playing long balls to their number nine and trying to win the second ball. Instead of trying to score more goals, we relaxed after the second goal, which allowed our opponents to gain momentum and eventually score a goal to make it a difficult game. In that sense, the back line had to do a better job of controlling the game, which is something we need to improve before the next game. Considering that we had six days to prepare for this game, maybe we were a little too relaxed. Now that our next game is in three days, maybe some of the players will be able to play better. As professionals, we will do our best to recover from this game and prepare for the next one.
MF/FW #6 ENDO Wataru (Liverpool FC/England)
It was a difficult game, but the fact that we scored the second and third goals made all the difference. We took the initiative from the start and fought hard throughout the 90 minutes. I am also pleased with the way we finished the game. As a team, we always reflect on the goals we concede, but considering that our opponents are always analysing us and waiting for their chance to exploit our mistakes, the most important thing is that we try to keep our focus throughout the game, while also analysing our opponents to reduce the number of goals we concede.
MF/FW #7 MITOMA Kaoru (Brighton & Hove Albion FC/England)
It was tough, but I am glad I was able to play through without getting injured. I missed a lot of chances though, which is something I cannot afford to do in the upcoming matches. I was able to get a feel for my ball control and the pitch condition, so it was good preparation for the next match. The game was opening up, so I really wanted to make the most of the space I was given and produce results. Our defenders probably wanted me to waste more time, but I couldn't resist the urge to take my chances, which would have been fine if I'd scored a goal or two, so that's something I need to do better next time.
MF/FW #9 UEDA Ayase (Feyenoord/Netherlands)
I had a good understanding of where the gaps and mismatches were in the opponents’ formation, so I feel like I was able to exploit those holes from the first half. Goals don't just come when you ask for them, they take a lot of luck and timing, so I feel very lucky to have scored today. However, the goal we conceded was a bit unfortunate because Suzuki and I both tried to clear the ball and although we both claimed the ball, we were not sure who was ultimately responsible. It was a result of both of us trying hard, so it didn't affect my game afterwards. The fact that the team played the kind of football we have been preparing for gives us a lot of confidence going forward and I am not really worried about playing our next game on two days' rest.
MF/FW #10 DOAN Ritsu (SC Freiburg/Germany)
(reflecting on his goal) It was a great shot and I always look for the deflection in those situations. You cannot score goals when you are a step behind, and I feel I got a good start in that scene. I was afraid I was going to get under the ball, so I took a little touch before taking the shot. The fact that I was able to score in the team's victory is an ideal result, but I still think I could have created more chances and scored more goals. We slowed down a bit as the intensity increased and we conceded a goal, but that is why the Asian Cup is so difficult. I feel like I was able to reset my mind and do the minimum amount of work.
MF/FW #20 KUBO Takefusa (Real Sociedad/Spain)
(reflecting on his goal) I tried to set up Ueda for a shot, but the ball bounced back to me, so even though I knew I was in an offside position, I finished the play with a shot. In a refereeing briefing held by the organisers before the tournament, they mentioned cases where it wouldn't count as offside, and I thought that might be the case when I took the shot, so I'm glad it was allowed. I don't like having to wait for confirmation, but it also gives us time to celebrate with the team, so I think it's a net positive. I created a lot of close chances, so I was happy with my overall performance so far, but a goal will put my name in the record books to look back on in the future, so I am happy to get on the scoresheet.
Juan Antonio PIZZI, Head Coach of Bahrain National Team
We tried to prevent Japan from playing to their strengths by limiting their space and looking for opportunities to counter with quick transitions, but they started to take advantage of the space in the second half. We managed to get one back but conceded the third goal soon after. The result could have been worse, so I am happy with the performance of my players. Since I have been in charge, the team has improved in every game, even against tough opposition, and we can now look forward to preparing for the World Cup qualifiers after this tournament.
AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023
Tournament dates: Fri. 12 January - Sat. 10 February 2024
1st Match: Sun. 14 January 14:30 ◯4-2 vs Vietnam National Team
2nd Match: Fri. 19 January 14:30 ●1-2 vs Iraq National Team
3rd Match: Wed. 24 January 14:30 ◯3-1 vs Indonesia National Team
Round of 16: Wed. 31 January 14:30 ◯3-1 vs Bahrain National Team
Quarterfinals: Sat. 3 February 14:30 vs IR Iran National Team
※Dates and times are listed in local time.
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