1st minute: Shinij Kagawa wins a free kick on the right side of the pitch within the first 30 seconds of the match. Keisuke Honda looked as if he would take the kick, but Takashi Inui stood over the ball. However, his free kick was cleared by Uzbekistan’s defense.
5th Minute: Okazaki drops the ball back to Honda, and Honda then finds Inui on his left. Inui then slots a perfectly weighted pass into space for Kagawa to run on. Kagawa takes a shot, but it is blocked out for a corner kick.
6th Minute: GOAL Japan 1 – 0 Uzbekistan
Toshihiro Aoyama hits a sweet shot with his right foot from 25 meters out after Uzbekistan’s GK punches Inui’s corner kick clear.
11th Minute: Uzbekistan’s LW Rashidov hits a strike with real venom from outside of the penalty area, but it flies over the crossbar.
30th Minute: Uzbekistan had a half-chance after Japan’s defenders lost their concentration for a split second. However, the attacker couldn’t get power behind his header off a high ball that floated near the edge of the goalkeeper area.
31st Minute: LB Kosuke Ota, LW/RW/ST Usami, and CB HIroki Mizumoto were given instructions to warmup. Usami coming on for Honda?
34th Minute: Yasuyuki Konno gets himself into Uzbekistan’s penalty area, but his shot goes wide. Positive for Japan to see a defensive-minded player like Konno in the attacking third.
36th Minute: Inui shows his soft first touch inside of Uzbekistan’s penalty area, but a defender recovers and clears the ball out for a corner kick.
42nd Minute: Rashidov sends a very dangerous free kick with his left foot from the right side of Japan’s penalty area. His teammate gets his head on it, but it goes over. Rashidov shows that he is Uzbekistan’s most dangerous man on the pitch.
45th Minute: Kagawa is sent through from Honda’s quick free kick. Kagawa takes a shot from inside of the penalty area, but it is blocked by Uzbekistan’s GK Turaev.
1st Half Observations:
1. Shinji Okazaki, who looks to have colored his hair, puts high pressure on Uzbekistan’s defenders after Japan clear the ball up field. To help with pressure, the closest winger also puts pressure on the nearest passing option. However, Okazaki and the closest winger cover passing lanes if Uzbekistan are already in secure possession of the ball.
2. Continuation of #1. When one of Uzbekistan’s CBs has possession of the ball at the top of their defensive third, Japan’s LW, ST, and RW stand in a line with about 7-10 meters separating them. This makes it difficult for Uzbekistan to make a vertical pass into Japan’s midfield to launch an attack; therefore, Uzbekistan is forced to pass the ball wide where Japan can quickly shift their formation to prevent dangerous attacks.
3. In the past, I have criticized Japan’s offense for being impotentーnot being able to finish attacks with a shot, but Japan has already taken 3 shots within the first 10 minutes of the match.
4. Commentators and analysts of the TV station showing the match just mentioned that Manager Halilhodžić’s wanted to keep a high defensive line, which is something I mentioned would be important in tonight’s match. (Maybe I should go into coaching in the near future).
5. Honda doesn’t have the dynamic element that he had in the Tunisia match.
Keys for Success in the 2nd Half:
1. Stay organized on defense. So far, Japan has looked organized on defense when the ball is in play. However, they still look shaky on set pieces.
2. Staying organized on defense is important; however, being creative and fluid on offense will keep Uzbekistan’s defense on their back foot. As mentioned above, Honda is having difficulty finding his feet in the first half, and this is affecting Japan’s attack. If Usami were to come on from the start of the second half for Honda, it would give Japan’s offense an injection of creativity and energy that could lead to more goals.
3. Keep the switch on. Japan’s players need to keep their mental switches on for the whole 90+ minutes of the match.
1. Uzbekistan needs to be more organized on both sides of the ball. Defensively, there are many gaps for Japan to exploit. Offensively, their players are spaced to far apart to connect passes to create combinations with each other. This is making it difficult for them to create anything on offense, except set pieces.
2. Related to #1. Players need to support the player who has the ball. Too often, a player is isolated and has to take on one or two of Japan’s defenders.
3. Find Rashidov at his feet or in space. It is difficult for Rashidov to get the ball because he is often isolated on the left flank. If I were Uzbekistan’s manager, I would move Rashidov to the CAM position where he can use his skill on the ball and speed to make runs from the midfield. This will give Uzbekistan a new dimension on offense.