Rueful Yoshida reflects on Japan's missed opportunity
Abu Dhabi: A disappointed Maya Yoshida said Japan's loss in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 final was an opportunity lost, after their hopes of a fifth Continental title were extinguished by Qatar on Friday.
Stunning goals from Almoez Ali and Abdelaziz Hatim had Qatar two goals ahead within half an hour, but Japan found a lifeline through Takumi Minamino in the 69th minute, before a VAR-assisted penalty conceded by Yoshida was converted by Akram Afif, effectively sealing the tie at 3-1.
Yoshida, who won the title as a 22-year-old in Qatar eight years ago, was left to reflect on one that got away for the competition's most successful nation.
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"We didn’t start the game well," said the Southampton defender.
"More than anything I had the sense that this kind of thing could happen. We had played really well against (Islamic Republic of) Iran and then when we watched the game between UAE and Qatar, we really felt we had a big chance.
"As captain, I feel a sense of regret and unease that I wasn’t able to ensure that as a team we kept that feeling in check.
"For the first and second goals we conceded from a player right in front of me, and I really feel a big sense of regret that I wasn’t able to lead the team to the title."
Under the tutelage of head coach Hajime Moriyasu, Japan had reached the final with a perfect record of six wins from six matches, and stormed into the decider with a highly impressive 3-0 win over the previously unbeaten Iran.
But their steady, game by game improvement ultimately counted for nothing on the Continent's biggest stage, as an inspired Qatar deservedly claimed their first major senior title.
With the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, and a second ever participation in the Copa America both to come in 2019, Yoshida said his team still had much to look forward forward to.
"Our first target is, of course, to qualify for the World Cup, and then get over the wall at which we were stopped last time, the Round of 16. That is an objective for Japanese football," he explained.
"In order to do that we have the Copa America coming up and then in the autumn the World Cup qualifiers, and we have to make sure we learn from this defeat.
"We have to capitalise upon this experience looking ahead to what comes next. Of course I’m disappointed, but we have to look forward.
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