Final Score: Japan 5 – 1 Uzbekistan
Player of the Match: Shinji Okazaki
Shinji Okazaki’s work rate was on display tonight. He put pressure on Uzbekistan’s defensive line non-stop all match, his movement off the ball created space for fellow attackers, he scored a goal off of Ota’s cross, and he made sure Shibasaki got his name on the scoresheet. To me, he is the Dirk Kuyt of the Japanese National Team. Dirk Kuyt is also a natural striker, but was trained to play on either flank and showed that he could play as a wing back in the last World Cup. Kuyt is successful in multiple positions because of his determination and work rate. Okazaki also has these traits.
Subsitutions at Half-time:
Kosuke Ota ON Astuto Uchita OFF
Hiroki Mizumoto ON Yasuyuki Konno OFF
Manager Halilhodžić makes an interesting move by bringing on CB Mizumoto on for CM Yasuyuki Konno and not making any adjustments (analysis in Observation #1 below). If I made the same decision, this is a signal for players to focus more on defense in the midfield.
48th Minute: Ota gives up a free kick on Japan’s left side of the pitch outside of their penalty area. Uzbekistan uses a play where the free kick taker lays the ball off to a nearby player, by the ball is hit over the crossbar.
54th Minute: GOAL Japan 2 – 0 Uzbekistan Inui takes his defender on 1-vs-1 and gets into the penalty area, but he loses balance and the ball. Uzbekistan’s defender clears the ball to an oncoming Kosuke Ota. Ota then sends in a perfectly placed cross from the left flank and Okazaki’s diving header hits the back of the net.
57th Minute: Usami gets the call from Manager Halilhodžić and receives instructions (and possibly a little more). It looks like Manager Halilhodžić has high expectations for Usami.
62nd Minute Substitution: Takashi Usami ON Takashi Inui OFF
63rd minute: Nice combination play from Honda, Kagawa, and Usami in the midfield to create a chance for Japan. Usami sends an in-swinging cross from the left side of the pitch, but Okazaki can’t meet the cross.
68th Minute Substitution: Gaku Shibasaki ON Shinji Kagawa OFF
71st Minute Substitution: Yuya Osaka ON Keisuke Honda OFF 75th Minute: Uzbekistan connects some passes on Japan’s half of the pitch and Rashidov takes a shot, but it goes just over.
79th Minute: GOAL Japan 3 – 0 Uzbekistan Japan hits Uzbekistan, who are out of position, on a counterattack. Shibasaki finds himself with the ball just inside of Uzbekistan’s half. With his team on the full offensive, Uzbekistan’s GK his outside of his penalty area and tries to close down Shibasaki. Shibasaki takes a shot from 45 meters out with Okazaki and a defender chasing the ball down. Okazaki shields the defender off, instead of getting on the scoresheet again himself, and the ball finds its way into the net.
81st Minute: GOAL Japan 3 – 1 Uzbekistan
DF Islom Tukhtakhodjaev finds the ball on the top of Japan’s penalty area after a set piece and nicely places his shot in the corner of the goal.
83rd Minute: GOAL Japan 4 – 1 Uzbekistan Osaki finds Usami in the middle of the pitch, just outside of Uzbekistan’s penalty area. Usami then takes on 3 defenders, gets a step on them, and hits his shot into the low, far post.
82nd Minute Substitution: Kengo Kawamata ON Shinji Okazaki OFF
89th Minute: Usami takes two shots on goal in succession; showing his hunger to succeed at the international level.
90th Minute: GOAL Japan 5 – 1 Uzbekistan Morishige gets his head on a CK but it gets deflected. Morishige chases down the loose ball and flicks the ball over his head, back into the center of the penalty area. Kawamata gets the back of his head to the ball and scores his first international goal.
2nd Half Observations:
1. MIzumoto playing in the midfield with Sanfrecce Hiroshima teammate Aoyama. Mizumoto played more like an anchor man compared to Konno’s box-to-box role to fill the gap between Japan’s CBs and midfield. It is possible that Manager Halilhodžić predicted that Uzbekistan would make substitutions to go more offensive.
2. Uzbekistan created chances when they had shape on offense. When I say they had shape, I mean that they were able to create triangles where they were able to pass the ball in Japan’s half.
3. Okazaki’s work rate did not drop through out the match.
1. The reason(s) why Yasuyuki Konno is being played as a CM or DM at both the club and international stage. He is not fast or agile and is not particularly tall (178cm); however, his anticipation, positioning, and tackling make him a good defender. With his good defending attributes (anticipation, positioning, and tackling) plus his passing ability make him a good anchor man, ball-winning midfielder, defensive center midfielder, or box-to-box midfielder. He is a useful player to have in midfield because of his versatility.
2. Shibasaki playing in a more advanced position in the midfield is a interesting and attractive option. With his vision, composure, and technique, he has the ability to give Japan a different rhythm when on offense. Kagawa is a more go-for-goal CAM, trequartista, while Shibasaki is a distributor with a sense for goal, enganche.
3. I am usually quite critical on the Japanese National Team, well, Japanese soccer in general, but I believe that things are looking good. Manager Halilhodžić’s philosophy of creating a mentally tough and strongly bonded squad is apparent from their post-match celebration. Moreover, Manager Halilhodžić’s policy of using all of the players at his disposal is something which will give all players motivation to keep working harder.