Soccer

Hajime Moriyasu praises Japan’s cohesiveness in matches

Kyodo

Following Japan’s impressive 4-3 friendly win over Uruguay, manager Hajime Moriyasu on Wednesday lauded his new-look side for its seamless integration of overlapping generations of players.

The victory Tuesday in Saitama was the third in three matches under the new boss and the first combining established players from this summer’s World Cup with newer members who have quickly made their mark on the international stage.

“They really melded together,” said Moriyasu, who took the reins after Akira Nishino stepped down at the end of the World Cup in Russia.

The new wave — including 24-year-old Shoya Nakajima, 23-year-old Takumi Minamino and 20-year-old Ritsu Doan — blended smoothly in attack with the likes of veterans Yuto Nagatomo, Yuya Osako and Hiroki Sakai, as they continually made inroads into the Uruguayan defense.

With Nakajima attracting attention for his aggressive playmaking from the left side, left back Nagatomo repeatedly made attacking runs down the wing to draw defenders and open up space for the Portimonense midfielder.

Right back Sakai duplicated the strategy on the opposite side, creating room for right midfielder Doan to operate.

Werder Bremen forward Osako said the movement into attacking territory by the two wingbacks had been integral to Japan’s game plan.

“Because of the balance provided by Nagatomo and Sakai, we were able to attack from both sides,” Osako said.

Choosing to make just two late substitutions in the win over world No. 5 Uruguay, Moriyasu appears to have settled on the foundation of his team for the Asian Cup, which kicks off in January in the United Arab Emirates.

The manager, however, has hinted at further experimentation with his team selections and tactics, including the use of a defensive back three.

Looking further ahead, Moriyasu said he hopes to take a full-strength senior side to the Copa America starting next June in Brazil, when Japan will participate in the South American continental tournament for the second time as an invited nation.

While it was initially thought Japan would send an under-23 squad in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Moriyasu said he wanted his strongest possible side in Brazil.

“I don’t know if it will be realized, but I’ve asked for discussions to take place. We’re making arrangements,” Moriyasu said.

Because it is not sanctioned by the Asian Football Confederation, clubs have no obligation to release Japanese players to take part in the tournament.

The Japan Football Association would therefore need to negotiate the release of players with their respective J. League or overseas clubs.

On Wednesday, new captain Maya Yoshida, who assumed the role after the international retirement of Makoto Hasebe, praised his younger teammates.

However, Yoshida also said the Samurai Blue needed to iron out a number of kinks before the Asian Cup, but would head to the United Arab Emirates full of confidence in pursuit of a record fifth continental championship.

“Still we really need to improve a lot, but I feel really positive. . . . Even (though) we have only two games to go until (we) start the Asian tournament, I’m really positive about them,” Yoshida said.