Analysis: Japan impress despite late defeat
Rostov-on-Don: Japan, Asia's lone representatives in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Round of 16, suffered heartbreak after going 2-0 up against favourites Belgium before falling to a late 3-2 defeat on Monday.
A disciplined tactical performance against a star-studded Belgium side saw Akira Nishino’s Japan hold their opponents to a goalless draw at the interval before striking twice within seven minutes of the restart through Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui.
Belgium’s Roberto Martinez threw on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli with 25 minutes to go and both substitutes got on the scoresheet in the final quarter of an hour after Jan Vertonghen had halved the deficit with a fluke header. Chadli’s winner at the death denied the Samurai Blue the prospect of a first-ever World Cup quarter-final appearance.
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Yoshida Comes Out on Top
Facing the imposing physical presence of 190cm tall Romelu Lukaku was highlighted as one of Japan’s biggest challenges coming into this Round of 16 tie, but despite the eventual defeat, Nishino can confidently say he managed to fully neutralise the Manchester United striker who failed to add to his four goals in the competition.
Japan’s most experienced defender and tallest player (189 cm) Maya Yoshida was tasked with man-marking Lukaku, and the 29-year-old channelled all the experience from a decade of playing in Europe to keep Belgium’s No. 9 quiet for the evening.
The Southampton defender completed 26 defensive actions and stuck closely to his man all evening. The fact that Lukaku only got his first shot on target four minutes from the end speaks volumes on the success of Nishino’s choice to counter the threat of his opponents’ top scorer.
Fielded in the No. 10 position behind striker Yuya Osako in Nishino’s 4-5-1 system, the average positioning map reveals that Shinji Kagawa was in fact his side’s most advanced player. Looking to make an impact from deep, he demonstrated the qualities that have made him one of Asia’s finest players.
The 29-year-old was at the heart of Japan’s attacking play, completing 91% of his 55 passes, more than any Japanese player on the pitch.
Seven minutes into the second half, Kagawa expertly controlled Vincent Kompany’s poor defensive clearance and set up Inui on the edge of the box for the second of the Samurai Blue’s two goals.
Risky Late Approach Backfires
Having watched Belgium do to his men what they had done earlier in the second half by scoring twice within five minutes, Nishino felt he could settle the match in the remaining 15 minutes and decided to throw caution to the wind, matching Belgium’s intensity and attacking drive.
What followed was end-to-end action, which was certainly entertaining for neutrals. Japan had four shots, three of which came from inside the box, in the final quarter of an hour. Belgium had as many, the last of which delivered the goal which eliminated the Samurai Blue.
Substitute Keisuke Honda came within a whisker of scoring a marvellous free-kick from 40 yards out, but was denied by Courtois. The Belgian goalkeeper proceeded to catch the resulting corner kick and initiated a swift counter-attack.
Some poor positioning by the Japanese allowed Kevin de Bruyne to make a 30-yard run before releasing Thomas Meunier on the right, and the full-back crossed low for Chadli who won the game for his side with the very last kick of the ball.
Photo: FIFA via Getty Images
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