DOHA – With the fitness of striking partner Musashi Suzuki still uncertain, all eyes will be on Yuya Kubo to deliver when Japan’s Under-23 side takes on Iran on Friday in the quarterfinal of the Under-23 Asian Championship.
“It’s important to be on the pitch at crucial moments in games, and leave marks,” said the 22-year-old Young Boys forward, who chipped in with a brace against Thailand in the 4-0 win in the second game of the group stage where Japan claimed three wins out of three.
“It’s an all-or-nothing tie and there’s that pressure of being out once you lose,” said Kubo, who is aware that in addition to Suzuki, nursing inflammation to his right leg, speedster Takuma Asano’s effectiveness coming off the bench and Ado Onaiu’s two-day rest from the final group-stage game could leave him fielded out as his side’s only striker.
“Our defensive approach will change. I’d like to hold up the ball even if I am isolated,” added Kubo, who will look to exploit the high defensive line and loose marking at set pieces from Iran.
Iran secured its place in the last eight with two wins and a loss from the group stage. It scored six while conceding four, and Japan manager Makoto Teguramori is aware the solidity at the back is crucial against a team Japan drew 3-3 with in his first game in charge two years ago in the AFC U-22 Championship.
“I have been taught that you can’t win without building a defensive structure,” said Teguramori. “It’ll definitely be a tough game. The team who make mistakes will go out.”
The manager will likely pin his hopes on Sei Muroya at right-back to keep quiet midfielder Mehdi Torabi, who netted for Iran against Japan’s senior side in October and whose trickery and accurate deliveries could cause problems.
“It is my job to keep hold of opposing midfielders on the side,” said Muroya. “It’s important not to lose on one-on-ones. Reaching the semifinals will be a huge step toward the Olympics.”