Hard work pays off for Japan's Shiotani
Al Ain: Practice made perfect for Tsukasa Shiotani after the Japan midfielder revealed he had been working on his long-range shooting before scoring his side’s spectacular winner against Uzbekistan in their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 match on Thursday.
The Al Ain midfielder, who was only called up into the squad as a late replacement for the injured Hidesmasa Morita, gave Japan the lead 13 minutes into the second half of their meeting with the Central Asian side, with the goal earning Hajime Moriyasu’s side top spot in Group F.
That means Japan will meet Saudi Arabia in what promises to be one of the highlights of the Round of 16 as Moriyasu and company attempt to deliver a record-extending fifth title for the Samurai Blue.
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“Two days before the game I scored one in shooting practice, with my right foot, not my left, so I had a good image in my head,” said Shiotani, who played under Moriyasu during the pair’s time at J.League side Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
“The fact I was also able to do it in a game is the best feeling.”
Shiotani’s goal put Japan in front after Yoshinori Muto cancelled out Eldor Shomurodov’s fine individual opener for the Uzbeks and the win ensures Japan advance to the knockout rounds with a perfect record.
The 30-year-old was one of 10 changes made by Moriyasu to his starting line-up as the coach sought to freshen his squad ahead of the Round of 16 but Shiotani will no doubt be pushing to retain his place in the team.
Featuring alongside his former Sanfrecce Hiroshima teammate Toshihiro Aoyama in the heart of the team, Shiotani looked at home despite making his first appearance for Japan since 2014.
"As a team we’d already qualified for the knockout round, but in this kind of competition Japan has to be aiming to win every game and claiming the title,” said Shiotani.
“I think this win was also really good in that it ensured we didn’t break our rhythm.
“In the knockout round every team is strong, and so irrespective of who we play we need to be prepared for one game at a time and fight as a team to ensure we get the victory."
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