HANOI — Japan’s unsung hero Yuki Abe has gone into Bachman-Turner Overdrive ahead of the holders’ Asian Cup semifinal clash against Saudi Arabia warning, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
The unassuming Urawa Reds utility man conceded a dubiously awarded free kick that led to Qatar’s late equalizer in a shocking 1-1 draw with the Asian Games gold medalists in their opening game in Group B.
That result prompted a scathing attack on the team from cantankerous coach Ivica Osim but Abe has shrugged off the kind of dressing down he became accustomed to from his former manager at JEF United Chiba and has emerged as one of Japan’s best performers.
“I’ve always been the type to stay in the background and just try and quietly go about my job as efficiently as I can,” the soft-spoken Abe told Kyodo News after Sunday’s training session.
“Obviously there were things that happened in the first round that disappointed me but my teammates rallied round and I am really pleased with the way things have gone, especially with the way I played against Australia,” Abe said. “But the best is yet to come.”
Abe’s central defensive partner Yuji Nakazawa and goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi took all the accolades after their heroics in the 4-3 penalty shootout win over the Socceroos in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
But Abe, who has hardly put a foot wrong since his minor mishap against Qatar, also played a starring role, enjoying arguably his best performance of the tournament so far.
Despite his height disadvantage, the 25-year-old Athens Olympian stood head and shoulders above Australia’s burly striker Mark Viduka and admitted that he is growing in confidence as the tournament progresses.
“I got stamped on and pulled all over the place (by Viduka) and I’m still hurting,” joked Abe. “I heard it was Viduka’s last international game of his career so I feel honored to have marked him so well,” Abe told said.
“I was able to hold off players that were bigger than me, including the subs that came on, for 120 minutes. It was a good experience and has done wonders for my confidence,” he said.
Despite Japan’s win over tournament favorites Australia there were no congratulations from Osim, not that Abe expected any.
“The coach wasn’t in the slightest bit pleased,” said Abe. “He is the type to always let you know if you have messed up.
“I have played under him for four years and know you have to take responsibility and put your hand up if you have played badly before he tells you,” he said.
Japan play Saudi Arabia here on Wednesday, with the winners’ reward a game against either South Korea or Iraq.
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