Monday, 19 November 2018

 

Moriyasu Japan Mows Down Another

 Japan 3 - 0 Panama 

Date: 
October 12, 2018
  Location: 
Big Swan Stadium, Niigata

Japan 3

1 1H 0
2 2H 0

0 Panama

Takumi Minamino (43')
Junya Ito (65)
Kengo Kawamata (85')

Scoring  
  Cautions  Escobar

  Shuichi Gonda; Sei Muroya, Tomoaki Makino, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Sho Sasaki; Toshihiro Aoyama (Gaku Shibasaki 88'), Kenta Misao; Junya Ito (Ritsu Doan 81'), Takumi Minamino (Koya Kitagawa 67'), Genki Haraguchi; Yuya Osako (Kengo Kawamata 67')
 


The second match of the Moriyasu Era was almost an identical replay of the first, with the exact same halftime and full time score line, and two of the same players registering goals. In fact, while Kengo Kawamata did just enough to deserve having his name recorded in the score sheet, a Panama player helped the ball into the net enough to have been recorded as an own goal -- if that had been the case, we could have posted exactly the same data table above as we used for the Panama match, changing only the times that the three goals were recorded.

If anyone had concerns that the game against Costa Rica might have been a reflection of the weakness of the opponent, rather than the potential of the new faces in Samurai Blue, Friday evening's contest laid them to rest. This match featured ten of the eleven players who Panama fielded at the World Cup, yet Japan handled them with almost as much ease as they did the Ticos, last month. The only possible criticism one might level against the team was that the players seemed a bit reluctant to match Panama's physical play, and consequently were shoved, pulled or wrestled off the ball in midfield more frequently than one would prefer. There are some valid excuses for this weakness -- not only is Panama a highly experienced team that has always adopted this type of rough-and-tumble philosophy, but the match official seemed to bend over backward to avoid calling fouls on the visiting team (particularly after Japan took the lead). Nevertheless, one thing that coach Moriyasu needs to focus on is the lack of real "combativeness" among some of the younger players, particularly Haraguchi, Minamino and Muroya. 

The Samurai Blue adopted the same nominal 4-5-1 alignment that was used against Costa Rica, but as I noted in the match report for last month's contest, the system that coach Moriyasu had developed is quite different from the 4-5-1 systems that Japan has been using over the past two World Cup Cycles.  The most important element is the alignment of defensive players, which changes depending on whether Japan is on defense, or in possession. While the back four defends in a more-or-less "conventional" manner, when Japan has the ball, both wingbacks shift forward dramatically, while one of the two defensive midfielders (in this case, Toshihiro Aoyama) drops back to play in a triangle with the two centre backs. Essentially, the team adopts the same three-back, tight-midfield alignment that is typical of the "Petrovic 3-6-1" formation that has become popular in the J.League, over the past decade.

As was the case against Costa Rica, the contest was controlled almost completely by Japan's attacking unit, with Yuya Osako collecting the ball in the post and distributing it to midfielders Genki Haraguchi, Takumi Minamino and Junya Ito as they made dangerous dashes into space. Haraguchi, and Ito both played as substitutes against Costa Rica, but looked like they might be a slight improvement over Ritsu Doan and Shoya Nakajima. Osako is clearly better at holding the ball up than was Yu Kobayashi, though it remains to be seen whether either one can produce enough goals to really excel in that position. Kengo Kawamata demonstrated his ability to find the net, with the third goal, but lacks the passing vision and post play to displace Osako as the first choice up front.

Once again, the most impressive performances came from the wingbacks, Sho Sasaki and Sei Muroya, who contributed at both ends of the pitch, overlapping dangerously to create scoring chances, yet always scrambling back into defense to deny even a hint of a counterattack. There were a few other changes from the Costa Rica contest. Defensive midfielder Kenta Misao has emerged at Kashima this year as a worthy successor to past Kashima volantes like Yasuto Honda, Mitsuo Ogasawara and Gaku Shibasaki. Shibasaki joined Misao for the final few minutes of play, but did not see enough of the ball to make any impression. However, Misao looked extremely solid, and will surely move ahead of Wataru Endo in the pecking order on the strength of his performance against Panama. In addition, teenage sensation Takehiro Tomiyasu, who joined Belgian minnows St. Trueden this year, joined Tomoaki Makino in central defense. Though he looked solid enough, this contest was so one-sided that the defenders really did not have much opportunity to display their talent. Shuichi Gonda, who started between the posts, had only two saves and barely touched the ball other than those two occasions.

Japan took control of the contest from the opening minute of play, and did not let go until the final whistle. Despite losing possession frequently due to a lack of good chemistry and understanding in the offensive buildup (exacerbated by constant physical challenges from the Panamanians), the Samurai Blue constantly regained possession in midfield, well before Panama had worked the ball into the danger zone. While they may have lacked the physical "bite" of their opponents, Japan's constant ball pressure and excellent use of double-teams prevented Panama from controlling possession for any length of time. On the contrary, ass the contest wore on the harried Panamanians began to rush their passes and give the ball away in increasingly dangerous position.

The first goal was created by exactly this sort of pressure. As Panama moved the ball towards the centre circle Aoyama stepped into the lane to steal a rushed pass, and immediately fired the ball towards Minamino, about 30 meters from goal in the centre of the pitch. Minamino anticipated the pass perfectly, beginning to spin past his defender even before the ball arrived, with one touch and a pirouette, he was in behind the Panama defense, and had only to hold off the challenge from behind and stroke the ball past the keeper. 

The second half was as one-sided as the first, and only poor chemistry in the final third prevented the Samurai Blue from extending the lead on several occasions. Finally, in the 65th minute, Osako and Haraguchi got their timing right, exchanging passes at the top of the penalty arc and ripping the seams of the Panama defense wide open in the left channel. Haraguchi's shot was parried by the keeper, but the deflection fell right to Ito, who simply walked the ball into the net as defenders desperately tried to lunge into his path.

The final goal came on a counterattack that sent substitute Kengo Kawamata into the clear, five minutes from full time. Kawamata was shoved over from behind, while the keeper lunged at his feet, but instead of simply flopping and demanding a PK, the Jubilo ace managed to poke the ball free, and it rolled across the goal line for the third tally.