Sunday, 21 July 2019

 

Japan Building for Future Challenges 

Japan suffered a hammering in their opening match of the 2019 Copa America, losing 4-0 at the hands of reigning champions Chile after the Samurai Blue accepted their invitation to compete in the tournament for the first time since 1999. Manager Hajime Moriyasu opted to take a young squad into the competition to prepare for the 2020 Olympics and beyond. It did not pay dividends in the opener against Chile as a brace from Eduardo Vargas along with strikes from Erick Pulgar and Alexis Sanchez put them to the sword.

Japan improved their record after that shocking opener with two draws and some much better performances, but went out in the group stage in the end. The hope for the Samurai Blue going forward is that a core of young players will develop, beginning here and going through the Olympics on home soil. Japan will be determined to put on a strong showing in Tokyo to reach the latter phases of the tournament at the very least. Blooding their talent now gives them vital time to prepare for the challenges ahead and could even help in a run at the next World Cup. The Samurai Blue are a work in progress, highlighted by their odds with Netbet Japan at +25000 to win the competition for the first time.

Japan have been solid at previous tournaments, including their run to the round of 16 in the 2018 World Cup. The Samurai Blue stunned Belgium in that contest, racing into a 2-0 second-half lead through goals from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui. However, Roberto Martinez’s men responded to restore parity before Nacer Chadli broke Japanese hearts by scoring a stoppage-time winner to send them crashing out of the World Cup. It was not the first time the Samurai Blue had suffered disappointment at the tournament, losing to Paraguay on penalties at the same stage in 2010. At the World Cup Korea-Japan in 2002, Turkey prevented a charge into the latter stages of the competition.

Chadli the hero as Belgium bounces back to beat Japan

 

Moriyasu’s plan to build a team philosophy of bringing through players at the same time could be the key to breaking the trend. Japan still have experience in their side that may be useful for the next World Cup: among them Shinji Kagawa, Maya Yoshida, Takumi Minamino, Yuya Osako, Yoshinori Muto, Yuto Nagatomo, Hiroki Sakai and Gen Shoji. Japan opted to take Gaku Shibasaki, Shinji Okazaki and Eiji Kawashima to the Copa America to provide a semblance of experience. However, the rest of the squad were young, to say the least. No player captured the imagination of spectators more than 18-year-old Takefusa Kubo. His performances and talent have already done enough to secure a move to Real Madrid Castilla. Kubo’s development will be a key for the Samurai Blue in their hope of competing at major tournaments. Keisuke Honda and Kagawa are fine players, but neither were ever able to dominate on the world stage.

Kubo seemingly has the potential to take over a game with his pace, skill and clinical edge in the final third at his tender age. Moriyasu may well be building his Olympic team around him, but the challenge ahead will be surrounding him with other talent to ease the burden. Fielding a young team will aid the manager’s quest of deciphering who will be able to take the next step with the experience on hand along with Kubo. Defenders Takehiro Tomiyasu and Yuta Nakayama are already playing for European teams, along with midfielder Tatsuya Ito. There are promising signs, and we wait and see the results.