DOHA – Japan’s Under-23 side have already clinched their place in this summer’s Olympics, but work remains for manager Makoto Teguramori as he prepares his team for the Asian Under-23 Championship final against South Korea on Saturday.
“To become No.1 by getting even with the teams that have been beating us, there can’t be a better situation,” Teguramori said.
His side secured its path to the Rio de Janeiro Games with a last-gasp 2-1 win over Iraq on Tuesday in a tournament he regards as “the one for revenge for the generation.”
His side has lost three games since the team’s launch two years ago — two against Iraq and one against South Korea. Having repaid its debt against Iraq, attention now turns to South Korea, which it lost to in the 2014 Asian Games quarterfinal, 1-0.
“We need to take out our frustration from London too,” added Teguramori, referring to a 2-0 loss to South Korea in the 2012 London Olympics bronze-medal match.
“There’s a festive mood now (from qualifying) but that could change completely with a win or loss. By winning the tournament, people will embrace the hope of the team’s possibilities rather than their history (of not winning). I definitely want to help them win.”
“Both teams have been taking leads (in the tournament so far) and that’s the game’s focal point. The first goal will be key.”
Wataru Endo captains a side showing no sign of merriment despite having already qualified for Rio.
“We beat South Korea and head to Rio. I can’t wait for the match,” the midfielder said.
One name that looks certain to be on the team sheet is that of striker Yuya Kubo, the side’s only player to appear in all five games at the tournament. He is Japan’s top scorer with three goals, including the opener against Iraq.
“We want to finish with a win,” the Young Boys forward said. “I haven’t been on the pitch that long in some games, so I should be fine (for the final). My form is getting better as I play in matches and I’m in good shape.”
Teguramori has confirmed the team will be without striker Musashi Suzuki in the final. Suzuki set up Kubo’s strike against Iraq with a cross from the left but was taken off in the second half. He was suffering from pain in his left leg and right groin, and his absence could see speedster Takuma Asano more time on the pitch.
“I haven’t contributed to the team yet,” said the forward, who is in search of his first goal in Qatar. “I’m glad there’s still the game against South Korea.”
Takumi Minamino was called back by his Austrian club Salzburg after the semifinal, paving the way for Shinya Yajima and Ryota Oshima to vie for the right midfield spot in what should be a typically feisty affair against the motivated South Koreans.