Hajime Moriyasu has struggled to win over fans of the Japan national team, but the Samurai Blue manager is deserving of more respect and showed once again in Wednesday’s historic comeback win against Germany that he knows what he’s doing… (日本語版)

The key to achieving success in high pressure situations is having the ability to keep your head when all around you are losing theirs.

And while plenty of fans, media (this correspondent included), and even some of his players were guilty of the latter during Japan’s opening World Cup contest against Germany on Wednesday night, Hajime Moriyasu maintained his composure to mastermind a sensational comeback and claim the unlikeliest of three points for the Samurai Blue.

With his team on the ropes for almost the entirety of the first half Moriyasu shifted from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-2-1 at the break, before further tweaking things just before the hour mark by bringing on Kaoru Mitoma and Takuma Asano and then introducing Ritsu Doan in the 71st and Takumi Minamino in the 75th minutes.

All four of these players made telling contributions to Japan’s historic win, with Doan first slamming home the equaliser after some fine build-up play on the left from Mitoma and Minamino, and then the much-maligned Asano sealing the three points with a sensational winner eight minutes later.

“Three of Japan’s substitutes were involved in that goal. Hats off to Hajime Moriyasu!” Scott Murray wrote in The Guardian’s minute-by-minute coverage of Japan’s equaliser, before heaping more praise on Japan’s manager at full time.

“It’s all down to Hajime Moriyasu’s slew of substitutes, all of whom made an impact. A managerial masterclass … and his players aren’t half bad either!”

Moriyasu came in for his fair share of criticism from Japan fans ahead of the tournament, with grumbles in particular about his player selection – especially the absence of Yuya Osako and Kyogo Furuhashi and inclusion of Asano, who Moriyasu helped develop during his time at Sanfrecce Hiroshima but who had been out injured since September – but he remained unflustered in his preparations and continued to insist that he believed he had put together a squad capable of progressing to the quarter-finals for the first time in the country’s history.

That target is of course still a long way off, and we shouldn’t get too carried away with one win – Moriyasu certainly won’t be – but it is perhaps about time that the man with the notepad is given his dues.

This, after all, isn’t the first time he has engineered a turnaround in his team’s fortunes, and as well as composure in heated situations being a hallmark of successful individuals so too is recognising your mistakes and correcting them.

It hasn’t just been in his personnel selections and substitutions that Moriyasu has shown his talent, but also in his ability to foster a togetherness in the squad and transmit exactly what he wants to his players at crucial junctures.

After two defeats in the first three games of the final round of Asian qualifying it looked like his job was on the line, for instance, and the usually reserved manager had tears in his eyes during the national anthem ahead of the crucial home clash against Australia in October last year.

That emotion clearly transferred to his players who, in a slightly re-jigged 4-3-3 formation, claimed a 2-1 win at Saitama Stadium – Asano again the hero late on – turning things around and kickstarting a run of six straight wins to secure their place in Qatar – capped off as Mitoma, on as a sub, of course, struck twice late on in the return fixture against the Socceroos.

And he achieved the same at Khalifa International Stadium, bringing about a change in attitude and intent in his players to secure the largest scalp the Samurai Blue have ever claimed.

“Hajime Moriyasu’s in-game management was the biggest reason Japan won today,” Zach Lowy of breakingthelines.com tweeted on Wednesday night. “When Germany took the lead, he didn’t tighten the bolts to prevent them from racking up the goals — he went for broke and took control of the game via attacking subs like Kaoru Mitoma and Takuma Asano.”

Of course, the fact Japan were so outclassed for long spells has still produced criticism of the manager, and the team certainly rode their luck at times and could have done with more composure on the ball in the opening hour.

The argument that he should have started the likes of Mitoma and Doan is slightly disingenuous though, and we have no idea how that game – or any of the infinite other hypothetical games – would have gone. The whole point of having substitutes is in order for them to change the game in your favour, and in the only contest that actually happened against Germany Moriyasu ultimately played his cards perfectly.

That triumph will never be taken away from the manager or his players, and now he will focus on blocking out the noise again in order to claim another victory against Costa Rica on Sunday. Maybe this time we should believe he can do it.


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