[Match Report] Japan vs. Tunisia

Final Score: Japan 2 – 0 Tunisia

Player of the Match: Shinji Kagawa

Even though Kagawa came on as a second half substitute, he showed that he can change the flow a game with his skill.

2nd Half:

48th minute: Hasebe sends a nicely weighted lead pass and Muto gets the ball on the left flank in space, but his cross is cleared out of play.

53th minute: Tunisia had a free kick on their right side of the pitch, but it is cleared out by Japan’s defense. Muto gets possession of the loose ball outside of Japan’s penalty area and charges up field.  He then rounds a defender with a deft foundation and then nutmegs another defender, who then takes Muto down. A great show of skill and composure on the ball.

56th minute: Tunisia creates their first chance of the second half.  A cross is sent in from the right side of the pitch, but it is dealt with by Japan’s defense.

60th Minute: Substitutions:
Keisuke Honda on for Kensuke Nagai
Shinji Kagawa on for Hiroshi Kiyotake

64th minute: Yoshida gets his head on Honda’s corner kick and the ball finds its way to the back of the net, but the referee blows his whistle and the goal doesn’t stand (peculiar call in my opinion).

66th minute: Kawamata flubs his shot and the ball goes out for a goal kick.  Nice build up play from Muto to Yamaguchi to Fujiharu to Kawamata.

72nd Minute Substitutions:
Takashi Usami
on for Yoshinori Muto
Shinji Okazaki on for Kengo Kawamata

75th minute: Usami showing some of his creativity with a cheeky back heel pass.

76th minute: Honda is put through in space on the left side of the pitch and he sends an accurate cross into the box but Okazaki can’t control off the trap.

77th minute: GOAL
Okazaki drops the ball back to Kagawa who then finds Honda open on the left flank. Honda sends another accurate cross into the box.  Usami runs to the front post, drawing a defender, Okazaki runs to the far post and heads the ball into the goal for Manager Halilhodžić’s first goal as Japan’s manager.

83rd minute: GOAL
More great buildup play from Japan’s midfield to get their 2nd goal of the game. Honda keeps his composure and finds Usami at his feet.  Usami then passes the ball quickly to Okazaki who then finds Kagawa making an overlapping run on the left side of the penalty area.  Kagawa then centers the ball, which the Tunisia GK punches out, but it goes to Honda who finishes.

84th Minute Substitutions:
Yasuyuki Konno on for Hotaru Yamaguchi
Atsuto Uchida (nursing a knee injury) on for Hiroki Sakai

88th minute:
Usami makes a well-timed run behind Tunisia’s defense and Kagawa finds him with a perfect pass. Usami hits his shot to the far post, but the Tunisian GK gets a fingernail on it and the shot hits the inside of the post and unluckily doesn’t hit the back of the net.

2nd Half Observations:

1. Muto would float into the center of the pitch.  I am not sure if he was instructed to do so, but I think this was a strategy to try and free up space from Fujiharu to work with on the left flank.
2. Honda slots in on the RW as a substitute, but freely roams the pitch.
3. Kagawa looks like he is in the groove again. His playmaking ability in the CAM position gave Japan more rhythm and also a change of pace in the final third.

Overall Observations:

1. On defense, Japan’s defensive back 4 are a lot more compact than I have seen in recent years.  When the ball was on a certain side of the pitch, all four backs were within one (horizontal) half.  When the ball was being circulated from a Tunisian SB to a CB, the defensive line would shift slightly to the far side of the pitch in order to prevent a long ball over the top to switch the field of play. It is obvious that the defensive line received particular training in this aspect because this was one of Japan’s weaknesses in previous regimes.
2. CM Yamaguchi’s contribution to the team’s overall balance is huge.  The unsung hero of the Japanese squad tonight.  He and Hasebe are both the links between Japanese defense and offense.  They compliment each other well in the midfield with their high work rate and anticipation.
3. Honda as a RW? Honda is not constrained by what position he plays on the field. He roams freely in the attacking third, and this creates confusion in the opposing team’s defense. Honda is NOT a RW. He is a “wide playmaker” with a free role.
4. Manager Halilhodžić giving Makino a chance to play a full 90 minutes.  As I mentioned in a previous post, “The New (and improved?) Japanese National team”, Makino might not be the best defender on the international stage, but he is capable as seen this evening.  His good technique helps Japan retain possession along the defensive line and his great attitude is an asset in any match.
5. Japan’s movement in the attacking third looks much improved.  Wingers make both wide runs on the flanks and also cut inside toward goal, which makes them extremely hard to defend. With wingers making runs like this, Japan’s side backs also become more dangerous because they have more space to work with.
6. Overall, a solid showing from Japan.  More chemistry on defense is needed, but it seems like Manager Halilhodžić can iron things out with time.

Japan will face Uzbekistan next week Tuesday and it will be interesting who Manager Halilhodžić will start in this match. Personally, I would like to see Usami in the starting lineup. Also, giving Uchida a rest would be best because of his nagging knee injury. Testing Fujiharu as a right back with Kosuke Ota on the left would be an interesting experiment.

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