Samurai Blue cruised through the second round of Asian qualification with a bucketful of goals, including a 14-0 triumph in Mongolia and a 10-0 win at home against Myanmar. In all, Samurai Blue scored 46 times in eight games while only surrendering twice. Yuya Osako and Takumi Minamino were tied for the lead in scoring with eight and nine goals, respectively.
But problems arose when the national team and the Olympic team were merged into a single group after the Olympics. The first loss for Japan in their first three third-round qualifying matches was a big upset at home against Oman, and their second loss came on the road against Saudi Arabia, who had been setting the pace for their group.
They needed, essentially, to win every match from there, and they did exactly that with six straight victories, including revenge wins against Saudi Arabia and Oman and, crucially, victories at home and away to Australia.
Eventually, the team coached by Hajime Moriyasu clinched their place in the World Cup with a game to spare. As Japan’s assistant coach in Russia, Moriyasu guided Sanfrecce Hiroshima to three J. League championships during his tenure as manager from 2012 to 2015. This will be their seventh consecutive World Cup appearance.
The most common configuration used by Japan is a 4-2-3-1, which has two holding midfielders, one striker, and aggressive play on the wings. They are strong defensively and quick moving forward, but their greatest threat comes from their ability to counterattack, which is the strategy they will need to use in order to beat Germany and Spain.
READY TO SHINE
Since Kubo has, for the most part, failed to live up to expectations so far, the spotlight is now on Ito.
The quick winger was Japan’s savior, as he not only scored but also assisted on the goals that got Japan back on track in the Asian qualifying competition.