TOYOTA, AICHI PREF. - Japan showed plenty of attacking energy but was foiled by Trinidad and Tobago ‘keeper Marvin Phillip in Wednesday’s scoreless draw.
Although fans at Toyota Stadium were denied a national team debut from 18-year-old wunderkind Takefusa Kubo, who was left off the bench, Japan, ranked 26th in the world, attacked relentlessly but could not get onto the scoreboard against 93rd-ranked Trinidad.
With Japan completely dominant in midfield, the visitors were unable to maintain possession for long throughout the first half. Although Japan failed to score, it was not from lack of trying.
Phillip repeatedly turned away first-half shots set up by a steady salvo of deadly accurate crosses into the penalty area.
Al-Duhail midfielder Shoya Nakajima sniped away at the goal, while FC Groningen midfielder Ritsu Doan wreaked havoc up the middle, often in concert with Marseille defender Hiroki Sakai coming up the right flank.
In the 24th minute, a Doan through pass unleashed Sakai down the right. Werder Bremen forward Yuya Osako found space in front of Phillip’s goal and stung the ‘keeper’s hands after a well-timed cross from Sakai.
That ushered in nearly 20 minutes of non-stop pressure from the Japanese that included a Nakajima missile blocked by Phillip, and a free kick from the Japanese midfielder that came off the bar.
“We did well until it came to shooting,” Nakajima said.
Starved of the ball while his teammates were under pressure, Trinidad forward Levi Garcia had the best chance of the first half but was blocked by Japan’s Daniel Schmidt. The American-born Vegalta Sendai goalkeeper then stopped a point-blank header off the ensuing corner.
Phillip was once more put to the test in a 30-second rush in that saw him deflect an 85th-minute strike from Japan captain Gaku Shibasaki, tip away a roller seconds later and then stop a shot from Sho Genji.
Japan went with a three-man back line for the first time under manager Hajime Moriyasu, who praised his players’ effort.
“I think it was very hard for them in some ways, but they gave it their best shot,” Moriyasu said. “If they can maintain a feel for this (setup) that gives us options as we go forward.”
While fans may have missed Kubo, they were able to see defender Yuto Nagatomo bring his usual dynamic to the pitch in his 117th senior international game. He had been tied with former goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi and Leicester forward Shinji Okazaki for third in career appearances for Japan.
Japan will face El Salvador at Hitomebore Stadium Miyagi on Sunday before leaving for the Copa America, which gets underway on June 14 in Brazil.