New Blue wave tasked with engulfing Oman
A youthful Japanese side must prove they have credentials against Reds
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 the-afc.com.
“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.