January 30 – Entering his press conference with an air of calmness and composure despite being ten minutes late, Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu explained his expectations heading into the round of 16 tie with Bahrain at the Al Thumama Stadium on Wednesday evening.
“After the Indonesia game we had some time to rest. We trained well with good intensity and I expect a lot from tomorrow’s match.
“It doesn’t matter who we play in the knockout stage, we just have to focus on ourselves. Obviously it will be a tough match but we just have to focus on playing our own brand of football.
“Bahrain are a team with a lot of quality and are well organised tactically. They defend well and attack well, not just on the counter.”
Moriyasu’s Japan finished second in Group D after dropping points against Iraq – a surprising result given the team’s favourites status ahead of the tournament. The team are now looking to make amends for their shaky start and show the world why they are so highly rated.
“Of course we have to learn from our mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we have any defensive worries for tomorrows match. I am confident that our players will play to 100% of their potential.
“It’s actually a sign of respect when people say we have been struggling- people know we can play better. It’s not just that we play worse, but other countries around the continent are growing as the gaps between top and bottom have been cut.”
Entering knockout football for the first time since the World Cup in the same city last winter, there is a possibility that Moriyasu’s side will revisit their penalty shootout heartbreak against Croatia if themselves and Bahrain cant be separated after 120 minutes.
“In the World Cup, we had a painful defeat on penalties and we have practiced more on that. But the most important thing is to not go to penalties in the first place. I let the players volunteer to take penalties, it is up to them to decide.” Moriyasu explained.
Juxtaposing what you’d expect from the Japanese, Moriyasu and his entourage arrived 10 minutes late to the conference for the second time this tournament.
“Our coach arrived on time but we were driving around the building for 20 minutes!” he joked.
The experienced coach was accompanied by Japanese winger Takefusa Kubo, who currently plies his trade for Real Sociedad in La Liga and has attracted interest from Manchester United, who could look to swoop for the 22-year-old as soon as the summer. Switching focus back on to the upcoming knockout tie, Kubo wasted no time in putting it simply.
“We just want to prepare well and have a good game tomorrow. We know that if we lose just one game from now on, we are out and our journey is over..
“It’s the knockout stages, we just have to play our own football. We have to concentrate on ourselves. We conceded early in the game against Iraq and these are situations we need to avoid.”
Living in Spain and training with European and South American players for the majority of the year, Kubo was asked how well he has settled back into Asian football after a stellar opening to the season which saw him pick up La Liga Player of the Month for September.
“I have played against Asian teams my whole life at youth level and now in my senior career for Japan. I have plenty of experience against Asian teams and despite playing in Europe I have no problem adjusting to Asian opposition,” he finished.
Contact the writer of this story, Harry Ewing, at email@example.com