Chiba: Japan are one game away from securing a second East Asian Football Federation E-1 Football Championship title and head coach Vahid Halilhodzic is more than pleased with his side’s achievements thus far.
After beating China PR 2-1 on Tuesday at the Ajinomoto Stadium, the host nation now lead the group with six points and only need a draw against holders Korea Republic to earn their first championship title since 2013.
The Samurai Blues played without their veteran players due to their club commitments in Europe and player injuries that forced Halilhodzic to pick a less experienced squad for the tournament.
Despite the stand-ins, the 65-year-old coach believes they have the potential to grow saying: “I think these players are serious candidates to play for the full-strength national team.
"If you think about the group, the mentality was exceptional and that was what gave us the result.”
Japan took the lead in the 84th minute with Yu Kobayashi’s (pictured above) tight angle shot in the 84th minute before Gen Shoji doubled the scoreline four minutes.
China’s Yu Dabao scored a penalty in the 93rd minute, but proved to be too little too late as Japan secured yet another three points and a spot in the top of the standings.
“It was a great performance and a great result,” said the former Paris Saint-Germain coach.
“The quality was very good. Our combinations were very good, especially up front. We created a lot of chances even though we couldn’t finish them all of. The players did very well, although, it was a shame that we gave away the penalty at the end.”
Japan won 1-0 against DPR Korea in their opening match courtesy of Yosuke Ideguchi’s fine strike from outside the box in the 93rd minute.
Halilhodzic admitted that the newer players were nervous but restated his confidence on the team saying: “In the first game, there were times where we panicked or were too anxious.
“But I told them to be positive because the reason they are in the squad is because they are good players. I’m not asking them to do things they can’t do.”
China head coach Marcello Lippi was quick to acknowledge Japan as a high-quality team and recognised that China is still a young football nation with much to improve.
“Japan has many players at a high level, technically very skilled. We could see that on the pitch,” said Lippi.
“When you talk about China, you have to think about the culture and the time that China has spent with football. It’s very different from Europe.
“Now I am having to build a team almost from scratch and we have about six or seven new players, and we are going to work with them from now on.”