New Blue wave tasked with en­gulf­ing Oman

A youth­ful Ja­panese side must prove they have cre­den­tials against Reds

Sport360 - - 2019 Asian Cup - By Matt Mon­aghan @mattmon­aghan360 ✉ mattmon­[email protected]

The cre­den­tials of Ja­pan’s new gen­er­a­tion will be ex­am­ined once again on Sun­day when they meet Gulf Cup hold­ers Oman.

A roller­coaster 3-2 win over Turk­menistan for the Samu­rai Blue pre­sented an un­con­vinc­ing start to life with­out the likes of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Ka­gawa and Makoto Hasebe in this Asian Cup.

Im­mi­nent op­po­nents Oman opened up with a frus­trat­ing, late 2-1 loss to Uzbek­istan in Group F and will hold re­al­is­tic hopes of un­set­tling the record four-time cham­pi­ons at Zayed Sports City.

Get­ting their bear­ings

It was im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict how this much-changed Ja­pan would get on in their open­ing skir­mish.

From the side that gave Bel­gium such a fright in World Cup 2018’s round of 16, there was a new head coach (Olympic leader Ha­jime Moriyasu was pro­moted af­ter Akira Nishino stepped down) and five changes to the XI.

These al­ter­ations rep­re­sented the loss of a com­bined 343 in­ter­na­tional caps, al­though Real Betis schemer Takashi Inui’s ex­pe­ri­ence of 31 run-outs was avail­able on the sub­sti­tutes’ bench at Al Nahyan Sta­dium thanks to his late callup be­cause of in­jury to promis­ing Por­ti­mo­nense play­maker Shoya Naka­jima.

Uncer­tainty abounded against the Turk­men. From sur­prise new first-choice goal­keeper Shuichi Gonda mak­ing two aw­ful mis­takes, to es­tab­lished Werder Bre­men for­ward Yuya Osako manag­ing to score twice yet still be un­con­vinc­ing.

Vet­eran Galatasaray full-back Yuto Na­gatomo cap­tured the un­cer­tain mood in the camp.

“We strug­gled against Turk­menistan but it was very im­por­tant for us play­ers to know what the AFC Asian Cup is,” the 32-year-old told

“We will use the ex­pe­ri­ence gained against Turk­menistan to good ef­fect.”

This fresh pha­lanx of play­ers now know what com­pet­i­tive foot­ball is.

Oman are ranked 82nd by FIFA, 32 places be­low Ja­pan. But Turk­menistan are placed 127 and they caused un­ex­pected dif­fi­cul­ties.

Rookie mis­takes, and se­nior play­ers not car­ry­ing their weight, can­not con­tinue.

Oman’s moun­tain to climb

It is a year since UAE su­per­star Omar Ab­dul­rah­man’s pair of missed penal­ties earned a sur­prise vic­tory in the Gulf Cup’s de­cider.

But the en­dur­ing pos­i­tive vibes from this tri­umph threat­ened to be chipped away in the Emi­rates by a fi­nal pair of friendlies that in­cluded a 5-0 chas­ten­ing by Aus­tralia and 2-0 de­feat to Thai­land.

This, how­ever, was not the case against the Uzbeks. They were good value at 1-1 thanks to Muh­sen Al Ghas­sani art­fully worked lev­eller and the re­lief on the Uzbek faces when El­dor Sho­murodov struck in the 85th minute spoke vol­umes.

No won­der boss Pim Ver­beek was so con­fi­dent pre-match.

He told re­porters: “We are look­ing for­ward to play­ing prob­a­bly one of the best teams in Asia.

“We won’t fear them as we need the points af­ter be­ing so un­lucky against Uzbek­istan.”

The loss of Al Hi­lal goal­keeper Ali Al Habsi to in­jury was felt by the flimsy goal­keep­ing for Sho­murodov’s clincher by Faiyz Al Rashidi.

Play­ing with­out fear is no prob­lem. It’s these er­rors that must be erad­i­cated against Samu­rai Blue.

Call for Inui?

It could have been the dra­matic chang­ing of the guard, but it was il­lus­tra­tive to see Moriyasu’s re­luc­tance to look to his bench against the Turk.

In a match that they trailed 1-0 at half time, only Shimizu S -Pulse for­ward Koya Kita­gawa was called into ac­tion from the sub­sti­tutes’ bench.

If the un­con­vinc­ing dis­play in Abu Dhabi has left an im­pres­sion on Ja­pan’s boss, it might be to in­ject some ex­pe­ri­ence.

Inui has got no as­sists or goals in eight La Liga matches for Betis this term, yet he shone at the World Cup. For­ward Yoshi­nori Muto is an­other op­tion who could be­lie his poor club form, where he has one in 13 for New­cas­tle United.

Find­ing their foot­ing: Ja­pan were un­con­vinc­ing in their vic­tory over Turk­menistan and will be tested again by Oman.

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