Tokyo: Head coach Hajime Moriyasu will not be underestimating Japan’s opposition in Round 2 of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 when the Samurai Blue launch their quest against Myanmar on September 10.
Moriyasu’s side are the top seeds in Group F and travel to Yangon to take on the Southeast Asian nation in their second round opener with the Japan coach sounding a note of caution to his players.
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“All of our matches will be tough, with long travel for the away matches in different climates with time differences, and we have to play in a different football environments,” Moriyasu told the-AFC.com. “Preparing the players to be in good physical condition will also be difficult.
“The first team we face in the qualifiers will be Myanmar and they are a team that have built and gained strength. We are prepared for this to be a difficult match.
“Making a good start in the first match is really important. How we start and how we perform will influence how we play the rest of the qualifying matches.”
Eight of the squad that represented Myanmar at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2015 in New Zealand have been included in the national selection over the last 12 months and the rapidly developing nation will present a challenging start for the Japanese as they aim to continue an unbroken FIFA World Cup qualification streak that goes back to France 1998.
The Samurai Blue also share the group with Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Mongolia with action commencing on September 5 as Mongolia meet Myanmar and Tajikistan host Kyrgyz Republic before Japan kick off their campaign against Myanmar five days later.
Moriyasu has been steadily building his team since taking over from Akira Nishino in the aftermath of the FIFA World Cup Finals in Russia in 2018, leading his side to the final of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 in January – where they lost to Qatar – before taking a youthful side to the Copa America in Brazil in June.
“We’ve been making good progress, that’s for sure,” said Moriyasu. “We have a good number of players who share our team concept, and they inspire and compete with each other. The development of each individual is making a good impact on the development of the team.
“However, we shouldn’t forget that we could not win the final match in the Asian Cup and in Copa America we were able to show a good performance on the pitch but that didn’t lead to us winning a game. This means that we have to do more to improve ourselves. We want to develop the team with ambition.”
The former Sanfrecce Hiroshima coach is also in charge of the team that will represent Japan when the country hosts the Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer, leaving the 51-year-old juggling his commitments with both teams. But he believes the two roles compliment one another.
“Watching two teams is a challenge, but I think we are making good progress,” he said. “The players in the Olympic team are now part of the big group of the A team squad, sharing the same concept and looking to the same goal.”
Two of the players due to line up for Japan both in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup and at next year’s Olympic Games – Takefusa Kubo and Hiroki Abe – have joined Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, further enhancing the options available to Moriyasu as he prepares for the qualifiers.
Their transfers, as well as those of a number of other key players, are a sign of their hard work and determination to succeed, believes Moriyasu, and are testimony to the country’s impressive grassroots development.
“This is the result of the players' efforts,” he said. “It's encouraging how they always aim to play at a higher level and take new challenges.
“At the same time, this is an accomplishment of the coaches who were involved with these players and the accomplishment of Japanese grassroots and youth development. I hope Japanese coaches feel confident that we have the ability to develop players who are active worldwide.”
With a history of success and a system that is producing a constant stream of top class talent, the Japanese will go into the Asian Qualifiers as favourites to advance to the next phase of the competition. And Moriyasu wants his players to use that weight of expectation in a positive manner.
“We feel the pressure, but this is normal in our professional football life,” said Moriyasu. “We will convert that pressure into energy and power so that we go through the Asian Qualifiers and gain the ticket to the World Cup in Qatar.”
Photos: AFP, AFC
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