【Match Report】SAMURAI BLUE win back-to-back matches to stay top of group - FIFA World Cup 26™ / AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027™ Preliminary Joint Qualification
22 November 2023
On Tuesday, 21 November, the SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) played their second match of the FIFA World Cup 26™ / AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027™ Preliminary Joint Qualification against the Syria National Team at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where they won 5-0 to maintain their lead in Group B.
In a match played in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, due to the domestic situation in Syria, Japan made major changes to their starting line-up from the first match against Myanmar, which they won 5-0 on Thursday 16. The team opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation, with nine players replaced, apart from UEDA Ayase (Feyenoord) and TANIGUCHI Shogo (Al-Rayyan SC).
SUZUKI Zion (Sint-Truidense VV) started in goal with a backline of SUGAWARA Yukinari (AZ Alkmaar), Taniguchi, TOMIYASU Takehiro (Arsenal), and ITO Hiroki (VfB Stuttgart). ENDO Wataru (Liverpool FC) and MORITA Hidemasa (Sporting CP) anchored the midfield while ITO Junya (Stade de Reims), KUBO Takefusa (Real Sociedad), and ASANO Takuma (VfL Bochum) were placed in midfield beneath the lone striker Ueda.
From the outset, Japan pushed their defensive line and used the width of the pitch to launch their attacks. In the seventh minute, Ueda latched onto a pass from Kubo and fired a shot that was followed by efforts from Asano, Sugawara and Morita, all of which failed to find the back of the net.
The opening goal came in the 32nd minute when Kubo produced a superb individual effort to unleash a well-struck shot from outside the area.
Japan’s second goal came in the 37th minute when the ball was connected from the defence line, through the centre by Morita, Endo, and Asano, before Ito Hiroki, who had made an overlapping run down the right flank, delivered a cross towards the far side, which Ito Junya headed back to setup the goal of Ueda.
In the 40th minute, Japan showed some great passing down the right flank before Ito Junya latched on to Kubo's through ball and delivered a cut-back for Ueda to score his second of the game. For Ueda, this was his fifth goal in two matches.
After a dominant first half, Japan came out firing in the second, with Sugawara scoring his first international goal in his eighth senior appearance with a powerful shot from a free-kick in the 47th minute.
With a commanding lead, Japan introduced HOSOYA Mao (Kashiwa Reysol) and MINAMINO Takumi (AS Monaco) in the 66th minute, followed by DOAN Ritsu (SC Freiburg) and MACHIDA Koki (Royale Union Saint-Gilloise) in the 75th to add more options in their attacking third.
Japan's fifth and final goal of the match came in the 82nd minute when Hosoya converted Ito Junya's pass to make it 5-0 with his first international goal.
The win extended Japan's winning streak to eight games since June this year, equalling the country's all-time record.
The other fixture played in Group B saw DPR Korea defeated Myanmar 6-1 to move up to second place. Syria are now in third place while Myanmar remain in fourth.
The next set of fixtures will take place in March next year, when Japan host DPR Korea at home on Thursday, 21 March, before playing the same opponents on the road on Tuesday, 26 March.
Elsewhere, Korea Republic defeated China PR 3-0 to remain in first place of Group C. In Group E, Iran remained in first place despite drawing with Uzbekistan 2-2, thanks to their advantage in goal difference. Group F saw Iraq defeat Vietnam 1-0, while Saudi Arabia defeated Jordan 2-0 in Group G. Australia won 1-0 against Palestine in Kuwait, marking two consecutive wins to lead Group I.
Coaches and Players' Comments
MORIYASU Hajime, Head Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
I think the players have done very well, despite the long journeys, the time difference, the climate and all the other factors that come into play. It would have been a difficult game if we had let our guard down, but it was good to see the players focusing on their own goals and development while fighting the opposition in front of them. We have won two games in a row, but we are not through the second round yet. We will continue to pursue our goal and prepare in the best way possible as a team to win through this Asian qualifier. Against a defensive opponent, we moved the ball around and created chances on the flanks, and Kubo scored with a great shot in the space created. The players made good decisions on the pitch and scored against a very defensive team. I think it was a very valuable goal that really turned the game in our favour. Even after the first goal, the players did not let their guard down and stepped up their intensity to dominate the game. We hope we can continue to play smartly to win more games in the future. The players gave their all against the opposition in front of them, thought about what they needed to do to grow and played at a higher level, which I think led to the second and third goals. The eight-game winning streak is the result of the efforts of the players and staff, which makes me happy as a coach, but personally I only think about how to win the next game. I hope that we can continue to win, not only against opponents that we are expected to win against, but also against stronger opponents. We will continue to stay focused, keep our eyes on our goals, prepare as well as we can for the games ahead and give our all in each and every one of them.
GK #23 SUZUKI Zion (Sint-Truidense VV/Belgium)
It was my first appearance in the Asian qualifiers, so I was expecting a lot, but I managed to have a lot of fun. I think my ability to win physical and aerial battles are my strengths, so being able to show that in the game will really help me in the future. I was also able to make a good decision on whether to parry or catch the ball. I made a conscious effort to provide cover and was able to position myself well, anticipate and deal with each situation with composure. I was able to play with a wide vision and the backline felt safe and easy to work with. I was able to perform well and get a positive result in a World Cup qualifier, so I think I was able to make a case for myself for the Asian Cup. I think a good performance for my club will lead to the Asian Cup, so I will concentrate on getting results.
DF #2 SUGAWARA Yukinari (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands)
When I scored the goal, Kubo shifted the ball a bit, which opened up the angle for me to shoot. I was feeling really good and confident, so it was great to get results. I need to make set-pieces a weapon in the future, and I think there are areas where I can improve the quality, but I'm very happy to have scored like that. Although it was a goal scored in a 5-0 game, it was my first goal for the national team and will probably stay in my memory for the rest of my life. I think it was a very big goal for everyone around me, including my family and mentors who have supported me and brought me up to this level. I really want to thank all the people who have been involved. Kubo and I talked about how we might have a good chance if we changed the angle a bit, and because I had a good feel for it from yesterday's training, I told him I wanted to take the shot.
DF #3 TANIGUCHI Shogo (Al-Rayyan SC/Qatar)
It was an away game where we had to take into account the travel and time difference, but it was good that we overcame that and fought well to earn three points. In the second round, there are a lot of cases where we're the better team, but even against those opponents you have to put a lot of pressure on to win, so it's important to go into the game focused and in that sense, it was really good that we won two games in a row, both at home and away. However, I will not be satisfied with the current situation and will always strive to improve within my own club. We have to put the World Cup qualifiers aside for now, and the Asian Cup is next. Although the stage is the same, I will be training hard with my club to prove that Japan are the number one team in Asia.
DF #21 ITO Hiroki (VfB Stuttgart/Germany)
I think it was good that everyone was able to react to the second ball after every long ball. The opponents applied a lot of pressure on me and Sugawara when we had the ball, but the centre-backs did a great job of carrying the ball forward, which allowed us to build our attacks in good shape. As in the game against Germany, I was able to deal with the players running from the opposition midfield, while communicating well with Asano to deal with the players on the outside. The second goal came from a play we had worked on as a team and it was a really good goal. I think we did a good job as a team, including the staff, to prepare for the game given the conditions, such as the long travel and the heat. I think we have achieved some good results through this, so I hope that we, the players, will continue to absorb the knowledge of the staff so that we can give our best in the games.
MF/FW #5 MORITA Hidemasa (Sporting CP/Portugal)
In the first half, my role was a bit unclear, and because Tomiyasu and others behind me were able to possess the ball freely, I played with the intention of playing in a more advanced position, but this did not help us circulate the ball very well, which made it difficult for us to score. That's why I moved myself down a position and let Kubo play in a more attacking position, and then we started to move the ball around more smoothly. That is one thing we changed during the first half. Kubo scored with a really good shot to give us the lead. I have played in many matches like this where we end up being held scoreless in the first half, so it was a crucial goal for us. It is great that the team is winning, but as players we are not so obsessed with the winning streak. We are just concentrating on winning the game in front of us, so it would be great if the winning streak continues as a result of that.
MF/FW #6 ENDO Wataru (Liverpool FC/England)
It wasn’t an easy game, and we made a conscious effort to win the ball back after losing possession. I was focused on working with the backline to create situations where I could win the ball back at my position, and that was something we managed to do well throughout the game. It is great that we have been able to win games despite the changes in the line-up. We have been able to maintain a certain level of quality regardless of who is on the pitch, and I think it really reflects how far Japan have come in terms of football. There is a lot of competition in the team, and I feel we can get stronger as long as we keep this trend going.
MF/FW #9 UEDA Ayase (Feyenoord/Netherlands)
If I go too far to the side, there won't be enough people inside to deal with the crosses, and I thought that being in a position where I could score would not only help me score goals, but also help the players around me, and I think that was something that worked out well in the first half. Including the last goal scored by Hosoya, we managed to capitalise on many quality crosses through the match. It was a match we had to win, so I am glad that we were able to earn this result. It can be really tough when we go scoreless in games like this, which is why I think Kubo's goal was so crucial.
MF/FW #11 HOSOYA Mao (Kashiwa Reysol)
I was really excited to get the chance to play for the national team again. Similar to the Myanmar game, I was given a lot of time to work with, so I was happy to score. I was looking for a pass when Ito made the move and I just had to make good contact to score. It wasn't a very technical goal, but I was able to get on top of the ball. I used to watch Ito play for Kashiwa when I was in high school, so to have him assist my first goal for the national team is like a dream come true.
MF/FW #14 ITO Junya (Stade de Reims/France)
We struggled at the beginning of the game, but once we started to create some close chances, we got the feeling that we were going to score. I wanted to score myself, but I feel like I was able to work well with my teammates and contribute to the win with my assists. There are some differences when you switch to the other side, but it didn't affect me too much. I was told in advance, so I was able to make the adjustments smoothly. Kubo was working the space inside very well, while I was working the space on the flank. I played a pass hoping he would shoot, and he did, so I think we are starting to get on the same page as a team.
MF/FW #20 KUBO Takefusa (Real Sociedad/Spain)
When I scored the first goal, I knew I had to take a shot, so I was happy that it went in. The game was going the way our opponents wanted it to go, so that goal helped us take control. We weren't in a hurry, but we wanted to score as soon as possible. The fact that I was able to score with my first attempt shows that I am improving as a player. I think the opposition thought I was going to take the free-kick when Sugawara scored. From where the ball was, I thought he was going for the near post, so I was surprised when he went for the far post and scored. It was a really good goal. I am happy to have assisted on that goal.
FIFA World Cup 26™ / AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027™
Preliminary Joint Qualification - Round 2
Fixture: SAMURAI BLUE vs Syria National Team
Date: Tue. 21 November 2023, 17:45 (23:45 Japan time)
Venue: Prince Abdullah AlFaisal Stadium (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
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