Sunday, 20 October 2019

 

 Stuck in Neutral

 Japan 1 - 0 Oman 

Date: 
January 13, 2019
  Location: 
United Arab Emirates

Japan 1

1 1H 0
0 2H 0

0 Oman

Genki Haraguchi (28')

Scoring  
Ritsu Doan
Takumi Minamino

Cautions Raed
Al-Muhaili
Saad

  Shuichi Gonda; Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Yuto Nagatomo; Gaku Shibasaki, Wataru Endo; Ritsu Doan (Junya Ito 84'), Takumi Minamino, Genki Haraguchi; Koya Kitagawa (Yoshinori Muto 57')

 


The Samurai Blue will look back at their performance in last night's game against Oman and rue their poor finishing in the opening 20 minutes. Genki Haraguchi eventually did get his name on the score sheet, but he should have put the ball in the net just two minutes after kickoff. But his overhit shot off the crossbar from six yards out would prove to be an omen of what viewers could expect over the remaining 88 minutes, as well. Despite dominating play, Japan repeatedly missed the target, or drove shots straight at the keeper, and as the contest went on, they even struggled to create shots.

The single most important reason for this impasse was the absence of Yuya Osako, who has been below full fitness due to a gluteal problem, and was rested in this contest. Osako is a central figure in Japan's offensive buildup, and without his presence to hold the ball up in attacking position, Japan's offense stalled time ansd time again. Perhaps if Coach Moriyasu had immediately filled the gap with a proven player (specifically Yoshinori Muto), the Samurai Blue could have put on a better performance. But he opted instead to give Koya Kitagawa a chance to prove himself.

What Kitagawa proved, however, was how totally unprepared he is to play at this level. If he managed to touch the ball three times in his 57 minutes on the pitch, I can't recall it. He was so completely out of tune with his teammates that by half time, Ritsu Doan, Takumi Minamino and Genki Haraguchi were visibly making the effort to keep the ball away from him. When Muto took over, Japan's attack became far more fluid, but by that point Oman was playing with confidence and fighting for a result, making the job of creating shots that much harder.

By that point the officiating had also deteriorated. The head ref missed an apparent hand ball in the penalty area by Yuto Nagatomo, near the end of the first half, and seemed determined not to make another call in Japan's favour for the rest of the contest. Doan suffered the most from this situation -- kicked in the back of the legs every time the ball came near him -- but all of Japan's players were occasional victims of "overly aggressive defending", which the referee refused to notice.

Genki Haraguchi also bears some of the responsibility for Japan's poor performance on offense. Though far more effective than Kitagawa, Haraguchi was the least effective of Japan's three attacking midfielders, and he contributed the worst misses of the contest. While the Hannover midfielder had a very good World Cup, he has a history of spotty performance, and his play at the club level has been less than impressive this year. After two mediocre performances in a row, one hopes that Moriyasu will give Takashi Inui a run-out in the final pool match. He certainly couldnt do much worse.

The rest of the team performed well, and this was clearest in the lack of dangerous chances created by Oman. Shuichi Gonda had to make only one real "save" in the contest. The decision to move Takehiro Tomiyasu into the back line was a major factor -- not only did Tomiyasu look much more comfortable than he did against Turkmenistan (in deep midfield), but he was a marked improvement over Tomoaki Makino as Maya Yoshida's partner in the back line. Long-time readers will be aware of my reservations about Wataru Endo, in defensive midfield, but he performed far better in that spot than Tomiyasu had.  He and Shibasaki were perhaps the most effective players for Japan, not only snuffing out any hint of Omani offense, but also providing good service to the attacking line (even if they did fail to turn the chances into goals).

All in all, this result was neither a source of concern nor of encouragement. The only real lessons one could draw were that Kitagawa doesnt belong in the squad, and that Osako is essential to Japan's attack. Junya Ito made a late cameo and performed well enough to suggest that he might be a good option as the first man off the bench, for the remainder of this tournament. Otherwise, this was a forgettable game, and an example of what the Samurai Blue needs to AVOID over the next few weeks.