Al Wakra (AFP)
After a historic first round, the Japanese national team hopes to continue its wonderful career in the World Cup in Qatar and reach the quarter-finals for the first time in its history, when it arms itself with European experience and reaches the first round to face Croatia and its star Luka Modric «Monday» at the South Stadium in Al Wakrah.
When the draw for the final was drawn last April, the most optimistic didn’t expect Japan’s national team to come out of Group E “alive” after dropping it with the German and Spanish giants.
But the “Blue Samurai” confirmed that nothing is impossible in football, not only getting his qualifying card, but also leading the group against Spain, pushing four-time world champions Germany out of the first round of the second edition in succession after losing her had shocked 2-1, before repeating the same result, finally, against “La Roja”.
At the time, Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu set his goals to qualify for the quarter-finals, but he added: “I don’t think we can win by doing the same things we used to do in the last six finals. We have to work and compete no matter who the opponent is on the field.” .
Indeed, the Japanese managed to raise the level of the challenge and achieved one of the biggest surprises of the final by leading them against Spain, while Germany came out empty-handed for the second edition in a row.
And now the “blue samurai” faces the challenge of experience and fighting spirit against Luka Modric and his companions in the Croatian national team, who reached the final four years ago before losing to France, but the advanced age of a large number of his players caused him to be excluded from the bills of the title competition.
The strength of the Japanese is that “the players don’t see themselves as starters or substitutes, and neither do I,” said Moriyasu, adding: “Of course there is competition for positions and we have some hierarchy, but in general they are all players who regularly play for the national team.”
Moriyasu Britsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma were mixed during the half-time match against Spain, focusing his play on the counter-attack.
And he was successful in his choice, as the two substitutions resulted in Luis Enrique’s men hitting immediately after the second half whistle, with the goal of the adjustment scored by Duane, and then with the aim of advancing , which Mituma passed on to O Tanaka.
The Japanese coach stated that he did not expect much to change in the third World Final confrontation between his country and Croatia, after the first round of 1998 (nil-1) and 2006 (nil-nil).
He explained: “The principle is that as a team we have to defend well and from there we will attack. This is how we got here, and this hasn’t changed in our three matches in the World Cup during the group stage.
He continued: “We are facing a strong opponent and we need to see how much possession we will have. We would like to own it more, but that depends on our opponents.
Like Japan, which booked its ticket in the last breath, Croatia was about to say goodbye to the final, but Romelu Lukaku missed two golden chances in the fatal time that would have guaranteed Belgium the pass at the expense of Modric and his companions , if he was successful.
Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic admitted after the game that his team was lucky in stoppage time, explaining: “I expected a tough game against Belgium. Belgium can’t play three bad games in a row. We were lucky because they didn’t take their chances utilize. .”
Veteran captain Modric was “ecstatic” to qualify for the final award, adding: “We deserve it the way we played. We went through very difficult moments because we were facing a great team.
He continued: “We have achieved the first goal (qualification), and now we have to move on. We have shown that we are a high class team that can face anyone and any team that waits for us. It will not be easy are against us.”
And with the presence of players like the 37-year-old, who was crowned best player in the 2018 final, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Perisic, Marcelo Brozovic, Andrei Kramaric or Dejan Lovren, Croatia has the weapons it needs to try and bypass the Asian team and advance to the quarterfinals, but the task will not be easy because the “blue samurai” This time it has more European players in its ranks than ever before.
Moriyasu’s squad is packed with European professional players across all lines, such as Ko Itakura (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Germany), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal, England), Maya Yoshida (Schalke, Germany) and Hiroki Ito (Stuttgart, Germany) in defense .
In the middle there is Wataru Endo (Stuttgart), Gaku Shibasaki (Spain Leganes), Retsu Doan (Freiburg, Germany), Kaoru Mitoma (Brighton, England), Takumi Minamino (Monaco, France), Takefusa Kubo (Real Sociedad, Spain) and Hidemasa Morita, (Sporting Portuguese), Junya Eto’o (Reims, France), Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt, Germany), O Tanaka (Fortuna Düsseldorf, Germany).
While the front line consists of Takuma Asano (Germany Bochum), Ayase Ueda (Belgium Bruges) and Daisen Maeda (Scottish Celtic).