2018 Russia FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Final Round
Japan is in Group B which also has: Australia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, UAE
Group A consists of: Iran, South Korea, Uzbekistan, China, Qatar, Syria
Even though Japan has qualified for all of the World Cups since France 1998, which adds up to 5 straight World Cups, Japan is not going to have an easy time with their group.
Australia are the current kings of Asia after winning the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. At the same tournament, Iraq made a strong showing by making it all the way to the semi-finals only to fall to South Korea. Iraq then played the UAE in the 3rd place match, but UAE were victorious. Speaking of the UAE, they beat Japan in the quarterfinal round after going to penalty kicks.
I hate to repeat myself; Japan will NOT have an easy time qualifying from this group.
The top two teams from each group automatically qualify for the World Cup. The two 3rd place teams will have to go to a fourth round where they play each other in two home-and-away matches. The winner of the fourth round will qualify for the inter-confederation playoffs with the 4th place CONCACAF team.
Here in Japan, as usual, the media is hyping up the national team. On the other hand, I am quite skeptical of the teams chances.
In this post, I will:
- Introduce the current squad
- Introduce my starting 11
- Briefly explain the reasoning behind my decision
- Predict the lineup Manager Halilhodžić will use
- Briefly explain the reasoning behind my prediction
1. Current Squad
2. My Starting 11
GK: Shusaku Nishikawa
RB: Hiroki Sakai
CB: Maya Yoshida
CB: Masato Morishige
LB: Gotoku Sakai
CM: Keisuke Honda
CM: Makoto Hasebe (Captain)
RW: Shinji Kagawa
CAM: Hiroshi Kiyotake
LW: Takashi Usami
FW: Shinji Okazaki
3. Reasoning for choosing my starting 11
Nishikawa has been starting in goal for Japan more often than not since Manager Halilhodžić has taken charge. Nishikawa has the ability to provide from the back, which is a weapon that can be utilized fully against the UAE. However, Nishikawa is susceptible to mental lapses which lead to giving up goals. For me, it was a toss up between Nishikawa and Higashiguchi, but I would go with Nishikawa just because he has more experience on the international stage.
Yoshida and Morishige at CB are no-brainers. They have the most international experience out of all the CB’s available. Hiroki Sakai at RB provides a very attacking option on the right flank while providing solid defense. So, the one position on the back line which is a liability is LB. On the current squad, only Gotoku Sakai and Kosuke Ota are natural LB’s. I chose Gotoku Sakai over Ota because Gotoku Sakai is more solid defensively, and the back four will need to be solid because UAE can launch some dangerous counterattacks. Also, Gotoku Sakai has a better positioning sense than Ota, which is extremely important when playing against a counterattacking team.
Captain Makoto Hasebe will look to play his balanced center midfielder position. Regarding Keisuke Honda at CM alongside Hasebe, I have been thinking and saying this for a long time, but I will say it again; Honda is best fit to play a deeper role in midfield and play more as a roaming playmaker. Why? Honda does not have exceptional pace to play on the wing, but he does have great stamina, body balance, strength, passing ability, and vision. Stamina, body balance, strength, passing ability, and vision are key components for a roaming playmaker, which would be a nice coupling with Hasebe’s balanced CM role. Ahead of these two are the 3 attacking midfielders. At CAM, perhaps controversially, I would go with Kiyotake. To me, Kiyotake creates attacking rhythm consistently for the Japanese National Team, and this is something that Shinji Kagawa does not do. In order to breakdown UAE’s defense, Japan will need to have rhythm and also a dimension of deception in their play, which is something Kiyotake provides. On the other hand, I put Shinji Kagawa in the RW position because he looks to get forward 9 out of 10 times. He also has a good sense for goal, so having him cutting inside from the wing will give Japan more attacking options in the final third. On the opposite side of the field at LW is Takashi Usami. He is in a position he plays naturally. He can take on players wide or cut inside to attack goal.
Shinji Okazaki. Although he may not score many goals for his club team, Leicester City, he is a goal scoring machine for Japan. He is always in dangerous positions, making great runs, and working for the team.
4. Predicted Starting 11
5. Reasoning behind this prediction
Because I went into detail above when explaining my starting 11, so I will go into detail only about the differences.
CM: Yosuke Kashiwagi
Kashiwagi is a very good deep-lying playmaker, and he has played with Hasebe in the midfield before. I think Manager Halilhodžić likes Kashiwagi’s smooth playmaking skills from midfield and his highly accurate free kicks. However, Kashiwagi is not the best player in the tackle, so Manager Halilhodžić is giving up that aspect if he gives Kashiwagi the green light tomorrow night.
CAM: Shinji Kagawa
When Kagawa clicks with the players around him, Japan can be unstoppable on the attack. However, Kagawa can be one-dimensional and predictable when he gets closer to goal.
RW: Keisuke Honda
Honda has found himself playing at the RW position for Japan, which, as I mentioned before, is puzzling to say the least. However, one positive about having Honda on the right flank is his ability to cut inside and rifle shots with his powerful left foot.
To be honest, I have not watched a soccer match for a very long time. Even with Copa America, the Euros, the Olympics, start of the new season, etc. etc. etc. going on. After quitting my head coaching job, I needed to take a step back from soccer, but now I am ready to start more analysis (when I have time from my demanding job).
I will be doing a live match report of tomorrow’s match, so stay tuned!