Being the most successful team at the Asian Championships, four-time Champions Japan would look to go all the way to win this year’s Asia Cup after suffering a quarter-final exit in the last edition.
Barring a debacle in their debut season in 1988 in Qatar, The Blue Samurais have been successful in booking a place in the quarter-finals in every other edition in the history of the Asia Cup.
In the previous edition, Japan topped their group, winning all their three matches against Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine without conceding a goal. In the quarter-finals, they scored a late goal through Gaku Shibasaki to take the game to penalties.
However, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa could not convert their spot-kicks, resulting in Japan’s exit from the competition. Keisuke Honda scored three goals in the tournament as Japan finished fifth overall.
In eight appearances at the AFC Asian Cup, they have played 41 matches, winning 24 of their games, with 12 draws and five losses. With a win percentage of 59% at the Asian Championships, they would be eager to capture this year in the United Arab Emirates.
Japan had a fabulous 2018 FIFA World Cup where they recorded an incredible 2-1 victory over Colombia. They followed it up with a draw against Senegal before losing their final match to Poland. They lost a thrilling 2-3 quarter-final battle against Belgium to bow out of the World Cup in Russia.
Barring the World Cup matches, The Blue Samurais had played ten International friendlies this year, in which they have won five of their games, including a 4-3 victory over Uruguay, who were ranked seventh in the world.
A veteran of two Olympic squads, two World Cup squads and playing in his third Asian Cup Championship, Maya Yoshida is the one to watch out during Japan’s campaign this year. Incredible positional awareness and controlling the defensive line with his organisational capability represent the key attributes of Yoshida. Playing in his sixth year for The Saints, he offers a wealth of experience to share with his teammates.
Yuto Nagatomo represents another valuable addition to the defensive structure of Japan. After seven years of top-flight football with Inter, he moved initially on loan to Galatasaray before signing up with them in June this year permanently. Along with Yoshida, Tomoaki Makino and Hiroki Sakai make up a mighty defensive line to deal against any opposition.
Wednesday, 09 January 2019: Japan (50) vs Turkmenistan (127) - Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi at 16:30 IST.
Sunday, 13 January 2019: Japan (50) vs Oman (82) - Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi at 19:00 IST.
Thursday, 17 January 2019: Japan (50) vs Uzbekistan (95) - Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain at 19:00 IST.
Japan embark on their campaign against Turkmenistan on January 9th. Though the teams have never met before, Japan would not expect a formidable challenge from the Central Asian team.
Japan has never lost a match to Oman, who by far are their stiffest competitor in the group. They should not take their final league game against Uzbekistan lightly after suffering a defeat in the previous encounter in 2012.
They would meet either Lebanon or Qatar in the round of 16 before setting up a mouth-watering quarter-final against Australia.
Average Age: 26
International Caps: 495
International Goals: 52
Head Coach: Hajime Moriyasu (Japan)
Goalkeepers: Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka/JPN), Shuichi Gonda (Sagan Tosu/JPN), Daniel Schmidt (Vegalta Sendai/JPN).
Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray/TUR), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Red Diamonds/JPN), Maya Yoshida (Southampton/ENG), Sho Sasaki (Sanfrecce Hiroshima/JPN), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille/FRA), Sei Muroya (FC Tokyo/JPN), Genta Miura (Gamba Osaka/JPN), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Sint-Truiden/BEL).
Midfielders: Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima/JPN), Genki Haraguchi (Hannover96/GER), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe/ESP), Wataru Endo (Sint-Truiden/BEL), Junya Ito (Kashiwa Reysol/JPN), Shoya Nakajima (Portimonense/POR), Takumi Minamino (Red Bull Salzburg/AUT), Hidemasa Morita (Kawasaki Frontale/JPN), Ritsu Doan (FC Groningen/NED).
Strikers: Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen/GER), Yoshinori Muto (Newcastle United/ENG), Koya Kitagawa (Shimizu S-Pulse/JPN).Published 23 Dec 2018, 21:23 IST