J-League 2017: Cerezo Osaka Lead The Pack

We’re just over halfway through the 2017 J1 season, and newly-promoted Cerezo Osaka are the surprise pacesetters after 18 rounds of games.

Soccerphile, 18th July, 2017

There have been plenty of other talking points over the first four months in the top flight too, and I provided a brief recap of them for Soccerphile.


Sanfrecce start again

Hajime Moriyasu standing down marks the end of an era for Sanfrecce Hiroshima, but perhaps the timing was right for a change in the Big Arch dugout… (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel, 12th July, 2017

They say a change is as good as a rest, and as J1 heads into a three-week break Sanfrecce Hiroshima will be doing both as they look to right their course in what has been a torrid season so far.

The Purple Archers – champions as recently as 2015, when they stormed to their third title in four years – have been in woeful form in the first half of the 2017 campaign, and ahead of the mid-season interval head coach Hajime Moriyasu decided enough was enough and fell on his own sword after the 4-3 defeat away to Urawa Reds on 1 July.

Having taken the decision to step down Moriyasu insisted the buck stopped with him for the run of results that has left Sanfrecce mired in the relegation zone, while the players in turn claimed the bulk of responsibility as theirs. Striker Anderson Lopes, for instance, said after the first game of the post-Moriyasu era away to Yokohama F.Marinos on 8 July that 90% of the culpability rested with those out on the pitch.

In actuality, the proportioning of blame is probably not necessary in this case, with it fairer to say that things between Moriyasu and Sanfrecce had instead just naturally run their course.

The 48-year-old had worked wonders in his five-and-a-half years at the helm since replacing Mihailo Petrovic, but with key players leaving every season and the spine of the team that did remain getting older each year the club seemed to be stuck in something of a repetitive cycle that neither coach nor players were able to snap.

In such cases, while perhaps not an easy decision, a change at the top is probably for the best. A fresh face in the dugout, new ideas, new training methods, chances for fringe players to stake a claim, and pressure on regulars to convince the new man in charge they deserve to keep their places in the side could all serve to reinvigorate the team once the league resumes at the end of the month.

Indeed, Sanfrecce’s next seven fixtures don’t look especially taxing on paper, with five teams in the bottom half of the table – Sagan Tosu, Vegalta Sendai, Ventforet Kofu, Omiya Ardija, and Albirex Niigata – plus Gamba Osaka, who Sanfrecce beat 1-0 in Suita on 7 April, and Jubilo Iwata, who they drew 0-0 with on 27 May.

If new coach Jan Jonsson can lift the team’s spirits and pick up a first home win of the season against Tosu on 30 July then they could well go on to build considerably on their current haul of just 11 points in the following half-a-dozen games.

Performances haven’t actually been as bad as results suggest, with the side still causing opponents plenty of problems going forwards, as Zlatan Ljubijankic noted after his Urawa Reds side battled back from 3-2 down to win 4-3 at Saitama Stadium in what proved to be Moriyasu’s final game.

“I don’t understand how Hiroshima is in this kind of situation because they are still a good team, they showed that today,” the 33-year-old, who made it 3-3 with his first touch after coming on as a 84th minute substitute, said.

Football Channel, Wednesday 12th July 2017

“It is difficult to play against them. But this comes; you don’t know the reason. If you knew it then you’d change and everything would be easier.”

In the end Moriyasu decided his departure could be that magic fix, but as Ljubijankic forecasted it didn’t bring about an immediate upturn in fortunes with Sanfrecce only able to draw their next match against Marinos under interim boss Akinobu Yokouchi.

“A game is 90 minutes plus injury time,” Kazu Morisaki said after the last-gasp defeat away to Urawa, in which Sanfrecce conceded twice just before half time before coming back to take the lead themselves with 18 minutes to go.

“Getting the first goal is vital, I think from now on we have to be looking to score first. We’ve always been conceding the first goal and having to battle back and that is tiring both mentally and physically.”

It was the same story against Marinos last weekend, with Sanfrecce unable to take their chances and then conceding themselves with just nine minutes to play. They battled back well though, and Hiroki Mizumoto feels the fact they were able to snatch a draw courtesy of Anderson Lopes’ 90th-minute equaliser provides a decent first step on the road to recovery.

“When you think about how things have gone so far this season getting a point at 1-0 down looked difficult but not one of us threw in the towel,” he said after that game at Nissan Stadium.

“We were able to come back and went and tried to get a second goal even though we were away. But when you look at the overall performance it is disappointing that we didn’t get all three points.

“The second half of the season is going to be a really tough battle. We had quite a lot of shots today but we need to make sure we are getting them on target and tighten up at the back.”

Scoring goals has certainly been something of an issue this season, in particular, as Morisaki pointed out, drawing first blood. Sanfrecce have only managed to get on the score-sheet first in four league games, with the win over Gamba the only one they have gone on to take maximum points from.

Even so, the 1-1 draw with Marinos ended their losing streak at four matches and offered a bit of respite heading into the break, with the further boost of new signings Daiki Niwa and Patric also likely to add some extra character to the side.

If Jonsson can come in and instil a bit of belief in his charges right from the off then all is certainly not lost for Sanfrecce, but confidence is dangerously low at the moment and needs to be retrieved as soon as possible.


Resurgent Reysol in the race

Kashiwa Reysol have been very impressive in the first half of the 2017 J1 season, and this year’s vintage share several similarities with the great Sun Kings side that swept all before them at the start of the decade…  (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Tribe, 8th July 2017

After four defeats in their first six J1 games it looked like 2017 was going to be a long season for Kashiwa Reysol, but a 2-1 win away to Vissel Kobe on 16 April sparked an eight-game winning streak and 10-game unbeaten run that was only halted last weekend when Kashima Antlers won a tub-thumping encounter 3-2 at Hitachi Dai.

Takahiro Shimotaira’s side gave as good as they got in that game, and had it not been for a couple of rare Kosuke Nakamura howlers it could easily have been them celebrating another three points and sitting pretty at the top of the table at the season’s mid-point. Instead, Cerezo initially leapfrogged them and then Antlers went top themselves following a 1-0 win over Gamba on Wednesday, leaving Reysol third.

Of course, whereas the two-stage system meant there was a benefit to being first after 17 games in the past two seasons the return to a regular format this year means it is irrelevant – all that matters is having the most points five months from now.

”Last year they were champions so we were the challengers here, but we can’t just be content with having put in a good performance,” right back Ryuta Koike said after the defeat to Kashima.

“In the end we lost the game and that is tied up with the difference in quality between the teams. After we equalised it was them who went on to get the winner. We had chances but couldn’t make them count and if we can’t improve our ability to decide and protect games – players at the front and the back – then I think the title looks quite a long way off.”

Koike knows what it takes to achieve success, having played in progressively higher divisions in each of his seasons as a professional since making his debut as for Renofa Yamaguchi in the Japan Football League (JFL) in 2014. Back-to-back promotions with Renofa were followed by a transfer to Reysol ahead of this season, and the 22-year-old is willing to take things one step at a time towards the next aim of becoming a J1 champion.

“We came into these two games against Kashima and Cerezo (this coming Saturday) with an awareness of how important they were, and as players we’d set the target of getting 70 points this season. This defeat is painful, but we are halfway through the season and still have the title within our sight. The next result will also have an effect on how things pan out for us and if we can still see a way of making it to our goal one way or another.”

Football Tribe, Friday 7th July, 2017

The side currently have 34 points – two adrift of Antlers and just one behind Cerezo – and there is certainly plenty to be positive about with this year’s vintage having more than a few echoes of the Nelsinho-led side that won every domestic trophy between 2010-13.

Nakamura was at fault for Antlers’ first two goals last weekend but has otherwise been a solid presence between the posts and a more than adequate replacement for the departed Takenori Sugeno, while Koike and Junya Ito’s combinations out wide have often been reminiscent of the surges forward made by Hiroki Sakai down the right flank six years ago.

While their styles are very different Cristiano offers the current side’s answer to Leandro Domingues, with both Brazilians top-grade forwards capable of deciding games on their own with a moment of individual skill.

Meanwhile, there remains a home-grown spine to the team with 32-year-old captain Hidekazu Otani still marshalling the midfield and partnered by another youth team product, Kohei Tezuka, who is 11 years Otani’s junior. There are a couple more Reysol-reared youngsters behind them, too, with Shinnosuke Nakatani (21) and Yuta Nakayama (20) occupying the two centre-back slots to good effect.

All of this has combined to produce a fantastic atmosphere at Hitachi Dai, and there are few better places to watch football than Reysol’s rickety old ground when it is full to the rafters and rocking to the local’s unique brand of support – as was the case for the win over Urawa Reds on 4 June and even the recent loss to Antlers.

“I didn’t really feel a big difference in quality, perhaps just with the final ball Kashima were a little better than us,” Ito said after that game. “Next we’ve got Cerezo and making sure we don’t lose two in a row is very important.”

Cristiano agreed on that front and likewise wasn’t overly concerned by Reysol’s first defeat in 11 games.

”I think it was a good game and what decided it was Kashima’s ability to finish their chances,” the 30-year-old said. “Kashima are a great team and now we just have to look ahead to the next match.

“The interesting thing about football is that games play out like that. Sometimes games you think you should have won you don’t, and other times games you don’t think you should have won you do. What is important now is just looking forward.”

A victory on Saturday over Cerezo would certainly serve as a welcome boost ahead of J1’s brief break, and if Reysol can pick up a head of steam again then there is no reason why they shouldn’t remain in the chasing back as the season picks up pace.


Marinos Sailing Smoothly

Yokohama F.Marinos have been doing it quietly, but the City Football Group-backed club are edging towards the top of J1… (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel, 23rd June, 2017

Yokohama F.Marinos are J1’s form side and head into Sunday’s match against Vissel Kobe on a run of five games unbeaten, four of which, including their last three, have produced victories.

The club has climbed to fifth in the table as a result, five points behind leaders Kashiwa Reysol – who themselves are unbeaten in nine – and only three adrift of second placed Cerezo Osaka, who likewise haven’t lost in five.

Marinos’ most recent win was the late 1-0 away to FC Tokyo last weekend, which followed on from an impressive three points against Kawasaki Frontale – another side widely expected to be challenging at the top of the table again.

“1-0 is also enough, and I think we are learning a lot,” Quenten Martinus said after Jun Amano’s 88th minute strike decided the game at Ajinomoto Stadium. Even so, the Curacao forward knows the team can’t bask in the glory of a few good games and that they need to maintain a high level of performance.

“We need to be more consistent with our results and especially with [the way we are] playing. We need to grow – we cannot go down like this,” he plunged his hand down as if descending on a roller-coaster, “and then one time here,” he placed his hand at an invisible peak. “If you play not so good then play a six (out of ten) and then only better (than six). We need to do that more.”

That stance followed on from comments Martinus made earlier in the season, after the 1-1 draw with Albirex Niigata at Nissan Stadium in Round 4.

“If you want to be at the top of the league you cannot make these silly mistakes,” the 26-year-old said after Marinos had gifted Albirex an equaliser in a game the home side were dominating.

“They don’t make chances, they did nothing, and we created a lot of chances but we didn’t score them. Then you need to look at yourself and think for yourself. I think we need to speak about this, but we also need to keep on going because we also did a lot of good things.”

His teammate Milos Degenek was in full agreement on that front.

“I think that’s the big difference between top, top clubs and clubs who are all on the same level – if you use your chances,” the Australian said after that match on 18 March.

Football Channel, Friday 23rd June, 2017

“A big team needs only one or two chances in a game, and I think we kind of missed out on that today. I think this was a game we had to win because we did everything well and pretty much just didn’t score.”

David Babunski was similarly disappointed with Marinos’ failure to make their supremacy count against Albirex, but detected positive signs in the team’s beginning to the 2017 campaign and was optimistic they would only get better as the season wore on.

I think we had a fantastic start and then we faced a very strong team, Kashima where we also played quite good,” the Macedonia international said of the narrow 1-0 loss away to the reigning champions in Round 3. “I think we proved to ourselves that we could win, that we are ready to compete with any team, that we can be one of the top teams in the J.League.”

Ten games down the line and Marinos have certainly built on that promise, thanks in no small part to the influence of the overseas players brought in by City Football Group. Martinus, Degenek, Babunski, and Hugo Vieira have all made crucial contributions to the cause, but the team’s array of domestic talent has also caught the eye.

“I think we have a very, very, very talented team,” Martinus said after the recent win over Tokyo. “Some players are out now which is difficult for us, maybe we have to have a little bit of a bigger squad to cover that, but I think we have quality players and also young players who are very good.

“For example, Jun (Amano) – for me he can play easily in Europe, easily. He doesn’t play so much but he has a lot of qualities. I don’t know, maybe a lot of people don’t see it, but I train every day with him and he’s really, really good.

“His first touch, and he can turn with a man at his back so easily and not many people can do that. His left foot is also very dangerous; you saw in the last game how he gave the ball to me (with a cross that led to Hugo Vieira’s opener against Frontale), it was perfect. And he can do this a lot, with his free kicks also. If he just keeps on training then for me he can easily play in Europe, easily. In Holland for sure.”

For the time being Marinos will be content for him to keep his concentration on J.League duties though, and if Amano and co. can pick up another three points against Vissel this weekend it will certainly lay down a marker that the team is one to be reckoned with.


Honda central to Japan’s World Cup chances

Keisuke Honda was again used out wide in Japan’s recent World Cup qualifier against Iraq, but he needs to be moved to a more central role if the team is to get the best of him… (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Tribe, 17th May 2017

If Japan want to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year then Vahid Halilhodzic needs to make Keisuke Honda his main man in the centre of the park – either at No.10 or as one of the deeper lying midfielders.

The 31-year-old became something of a forgotten man during his wasted last season with Milan, but as he demonstrated with an excellent free kick in his farewell game at San Siro he is still more than capable of making important contributions at the business end of the pitch.

And against Australia at the end of August Japan will be in desperate need of someone to spark the team into life in the final third, needing all three points to book their ticket to Russia after a sluggish 1-1 draw away to Iraq.

The heat on Tuesday undoubtedly had an impact on the Samurai Blue – most of whom have just finished long seasons in Europe, where temperatures are nowhere near the 37 degrees in Tehran – but after 90 minutes mostly devoid of ideas it is vital that the team bounces back and comes out positively against the Socceroos in two months’ time.

Japan are already guaranteed of at least a place in the play-off and could still secure one of the automatic spots even if they draw or lose to Australia, but that would almost certainly require them to win their final Group B game away to Saudi Arabia, who, as per Dave Phillips (@lovefutebol) on Twitter, have suffered defeat at home in World Cup qualifiers just twice in the past 32 years.

The best way to ensure smooth passage to a sixth consecutive World Cup, then, is by harnessing what is sure to be an electric atmosphere in Saitama and taking the game to Australia, and there is no-one better equipped to drive this Japan team forward than Honda.

It would appear that his teammates know that too, and even though he was again stationed wide on the right against Iraq the majority of Japan’s attacks were built through him down that flank, further highlighting the strangeness of Halilhodzic’s refusal to arrange his three support strikers in their best positions.

Getty / Football Tribe

Yuya Kubo, for instance, demonstrated in the last pair of qualifiers against UAE and Thailand what a threat he can be driving inside from the right flank or running onto balls nudged in behind the defence, but he looked less comfortable trying to do the same on the opposite side, where surely Genki Haraguchi – who himself produced some excellent results from the left wing in last year’s qualifiers, scoring in four in a row – would have been more effective.

The Hertha Berlin forward was instead selected in an unfamiliar No.10 role against Iraq though, and he struggled to adapt to his more claustrophobic surroundings and was replaced with 20 minutes to go.

Surely, with Shinji Kagawa injured and Hiroshi Kiyotake left out of the squad Honda was the ideal candidate to play in behind Yuya Osako and try and pick holes in the Iraqi backline for others to capitalise on.

The stats bear that out too, with Honda making more passes (51) than Kubo (19) and Haraguchi (30) combined, and also receiving possession from a teammate more than any of Japan’s other attackers.

With Ange Postecoglou having introduced a new 3-2-4-1 formation Australia are looking decidedly unsteady at the back right now – only just squeezing past Saudi Arabia 3-2 in their last qualifier before being torn apart in a 4-0 friendly defeat to Brazil in their final game ahead of the Confederations Cup – and direct, powerful, and positive attacks right at the heart of that nervous back line could be the key to success against the reigning Asian champions.

Honda struck the decisive blow to send Japan to the last World Cup with a penalty in the 1-1 against Australia at Saitama in 2013, and Japan’s No.4 should be given the opportunity to dictate the game from a more central position against the same opponent in almost identical circumstances this year too.

History rarely repeats itself in football, and new heroes often appear from unlikely places – just ask Tadanari Lee, who slammed home the winner in the 2011 Asian Cup final (Australia the victim again) having only previously played a little over an hour’s football at the competition – but Honda has been Japan’s man for the big occasion for almost a decade now, and he still presents the best option to get the job done.


Japan’s friendly lesson

Japan play Iraq in a vital World Cup qualifier this evening,  and hopefully they can avoid the blues that tend to afflict them at this time of year… (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Channel, 13th June 2017

Last Wednesday’s draw with Syria was far from a classic but, unfortunate as it is for those of us watching, exciting performances and positive results are not the purpose of friendly matches.

If Japan can learn lessons from the underwhelming 1-1 and improve enough to take a vital three points against Iraq in Tehran on Tuesday then the run-out at Ajinomoto Stadium will have fulfilled its purpose.

‘Fan service’ is a big deal in Japan, and the Samurai Blue players were all sure to read from the same apologetic script after the match, but with more and more of them based in the top leagues in Europe they know that some games are more important than others and that sometimes bad performances can serve as an important kick-up-the-arse.

“I think it’s good that this wasn’t a qualifier,” Genki Haraguchi said after the game. “We’re sorry that we couldn’t show the fans who came to watch tonight a good game, but if the players can improve because of this then we have to take that as a positive.”

Hiroki Sakai was also keen to take lessons on board, and knows the fans will forgive drab midweek displays in chilly Chofu when and if the ultimate aim of qualifying for the World Cup is achieved.

“We have to send the people who came to watch home satisfied and we have to pursue the things we are looking to achieve, and so there is absolutely no need to be negative,” The Marseille full-back said.

“If we lose the next game things will become really tough, and so I’m going to do my best to try and think of today’s bad things as positives.”

One slight cause for concern is the timing of the crucially important qualifier against Iraq, coming as it does right at the end of the European season.

The majority of the Japan side now play their football overseas, and the recent draw against Syria is the latest in a series of below-par offerings from the Samurai Blue at this time of year.

On 7 June last year, for instance, the side was out-muscled by a direct and physical Bosnia-Herzegovina in a 2-1 loss in Osaka, while the infamous 0-0 World Cup qualifier at home to Singapore was also played at the start of June in 2015.

“It’s not easy but we are national team players and so we need to make sure we deal with it and knock ourselves into shape,” Sakai said of the need to still be performing after a long and arduous campaign.

Yuto Nagatomo, a veteran now of six-and-a-half Serie A seasons, also admitted that there are difficulties in keeping the mind and body at its peak after a year of European club football.

“It’s the end of the season and so of course everyone is feeling the fatigue both physically and mentally,” the Inter Milan star said.

Football Channel, Tuesday 13th June, 2017

“However, we can’t use that as an excuse, and the purpose of today’s game was to get ourselves in condition for the Iraq match. Of course it’s a shame we didn’t win the game, but I think the most disappointing thing is Shinji (Kagawa)’s injury. Even so, I think today’s game has a big meaning in terms of raising our condition so we are in a position to beat Iraq on the 13th.”

The loss of Kagawa, who has recently shown signs of returning to something approaching his best form for Borussia Dortmund, is indeed a blow, and without him in Tehran Japan will need someone else to step up and fill the creative void created by his absence.

“We need to improve defensively and going forwards,” Haraguchi said. “It’s important now that the players and coach get together and discuss things and exchange ideas.

“I missed a chance (against Syria), and because I lacked quality then the game stayed at 0-0 and became more difficult for us. A national team player has to be scoring those opportunities, so next time I have that kind of chance I need to make sure I take it.”

Nagatomo, meanwhile, feels Japan started sluggishly against Syria, and knows how crucial it is to hit the ground running against Iraq.

“I think in the first half in particular, when the opponent still had plenty of energy, we struggled to lose our markers and link up to break them down,” the 30-year-old explained.

“Also, in spite of the way the opponent was playing, we were attempting passes that weren’t really on and then being caught on short counters, especially in the first half. Against Iraq we need to be very careful, as if we had conceded once in the first half here (against Syria) then the flow of the game would have changed.”

Iraq have demonstrated under new temporary manager Basim Qasim that they will present a similarly obstinate opponent, having kept back-to-back clean sheets in their warm-up games for this encounter with a 1-0 win over Jordan and, most recently, 0-0 draw against South Korea.

Morale in the team is high after a first game on home soil in four years (the win over Jordan drew a crowd of almost 60,000 fans in Basra) and with Iraq already out of the running for qualification they have nothing to lose and everything to gain with a positive result against one of Asia’s most prized scalps.

Australia are also now tied with Japan and Saudi Arabia on 16 points after beating the Saudis 3-2 last Thursday, although Japan have a game in hand in Tuesday’s clash against the Lions of Mesopotamia.

After that Vahid Halilhodzic’s side have just two qualifiers left – against Australia and Saudi Arabia – meaning three points are an absolute must against Iraq. They will need to sharpen up at both ends of the pitch to achieve that, and there is now absolutely no margin for error.


Pressure points

Japan just about made it through to the last 16 at the U20 World Cup, but Atsushi Uchiyama’s players could learn a thing or two from their English counterparts when it comes to dealing with pressure… (日本語版はこちらです)

Football Tribe, 29th May 2017

Dealing with, overcoming, and working out how to actually benefit from pressure should be the key lessons the Japan players are trying to learn from their exploits at the Under 20 World Cup, currently underway in South Korea.

Atsushi Uchiyama’s side started each of their three group games slowly, conceding first against South Africa, Uruguay, and Italy, before going on to have the better of things as each game wore on, ultimately claiming four points to set up a Round of 16 clash against Venezuela in Daejeon on Tuesday.

The players have so far struggled to find a rhythm when things are finely poised in the opening exchanges of games and any error could prove costly, before settling into their groove once behind and safe in the knowledge they have nothing to lose.

“Once we were 2-0 down we had no option but to go for it,” Takehiro Tomiyasu said after the side’s 2-2 draw with Italy in Cheonan on Saturday night.

“I think we would be able to do even better if we could play with the mentality to challenge from the very start at 0-0, before we have fallen into the situation of being 2-0 behind and so having nothing to lose.”

The only way to acclimatise yourself to pressure in order to be able to do that against the best players in the world is by subjecting yourself to it as often as possible, and too many of the Japan players find themselves in situations that are far too comfortable.

Compare the 21 players representing Japan at this year’s competition to their counterparts from England, for instance.

While the majority of the Japan side are settled in their roles in the orderly hierarchies of their J.League clubs – either as starters or back-ups – the English players are scrapping every day, whether that be by trying to get past a world class player in a Premier League first team or being sent out on loan to a lower league club to try and prove their worth.

That daily grind serves to produce tougher, more resolute personalities, and after the Three Lions guaranteed progression as Group A winners after beating hosts South Korea 1-0 last Friday the Chelsea centre-back Fikayo Tomori offered an insight into the psychology of the team.

South Korea v. England, Suwon, 26th May 2017

“Some of us have played in stadiums with 20,000 or 30,000 people but today was 35,000 or 40,000 or something like that and being against the home nation it was a different sort of experience for us,” the 19-year-old, who made his Chelsea debut on the last day of the 2015-16 Premier League season and then spent the second half of last season on loan at Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion, said. “Obviously no-one (in the stadium) really wanted us to win and I think we dealt with it well.”

The relish with which the England players embraced the challenge set before them by the 35,279 Red Devils fans in Suwon contrasted against Japan’s tentative approach in their games, and Tomori’s Chelsea teammate Dominic Solanke added some further insight into the determination bred by developing in such a high-pressure environment.

“A lot of other teams (at the U20 World Cup) will have confidence as well (as a result of) playing in their home countries, and some of the (national) teams train together quite a lot more than we do, but it definitely helps us getting that experience with the men back in England.”

‘The men’ was a revealing choice of words. The players currently competing in South Korea are still ‘boys’, and the challenge for all of them is to develop into men as quickly as possible in order to be able to shoulder the expectations of their nations’ fans over the coming years.

These are the players Japan will be competing against at Asian Cups and World Cups for the next decade or so, and in order to go toe-to-toe with them it is vital that more Japanese players further their development in the same environments as their rivals – and that means looking to move overseas as early as possible.

“We can’t gain anything from going into games against any sides thinking we will lose, and if you have that mentality then you won’t win games,” Tomiyasu, currently a regular under former Japan captain Masami Ihara at J2’s Avispa Fukuoka, said. “I want for us and for Japanese football to always be challenging to win.”

That mentality has to be backed up with action. Japan showed they have at least as much, if not more, natural ability than their Italian opponents at the weekend, and the country’s next generation of players now need to take themselves out of their comfort zone if they are to keep pace with, and then outdo, their counterparts around the world over the coming years.

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