Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

Japan, initially favored as the front-runners in the Asian Cup, suffered a 2-1 defeat against Iraq, exposing chinks in the armor of Coach Hajime Moriyasu’s previously formidable team. The setback now places them on the brink of a potentially challenging last-16 encounter with South Korea, contingent on their performance in the final group stage match against Indonesia.

While a draw in the upcoming game would secure Japan’s progression, the defeat against Iraq, a team positioned 46 places below them, has intensified the need for a morale-boosting victory. Moriyasu’s squad entered the match on the heels of an impressive streak, boasting ten consecutive wins and 43 goals, including a significant 4-1 triumph over Germany.

Under Moriyasu’s leadership since 2018, Japan notably secured victories against Spain and Germany during the Qatar World Cup, reaching the last 16. However, their return to Doha saw them outmaneuvered by a determined Iraq side that afforded them no respite. Although Liverpool’s Wataru Endo salvaged a goal in injury time, the overall lackluster performance drew criticism from commentator Sergio Echigo, who lambasted Japan’s sluggish start.

The spotlight now falls on Moriyasu’s goalkeeper predicament, with the inexperienced Zion Suzuki’s costly errors contributing to Iraq’s early lead. Suzuki’s vulnerability was evident in Japan’s previous encounter against Vietnam, raising concerns about the dearth of reliable goalkeeping options. Moriyasu remains optimistic about Suzuki’s ability to rebound but faces limited alternatives with Daiya Maekawa and Taishi Brandon Nozawa lacking international experience.

Japan’s captain, Endo, conceded Iraq’s dominance in midfield, urging a return to basics for the next game against Indonesia. The potential return of Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma, absent due to an ankle injury, and the availability of Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu are seen as crucial reinforcements.

Despite the defeat prompting Moriyasu to admit that tactical changes had impacted the team, the coach, known for his conservative approach, is unlikely to make drastic alterations. His measured response reflects a focus on the next challenge, emphasizing that, “Once the final whistle blows, it’s the beginning of the next match.”

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