Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu gets suspended after win over Socceroos

Tuesday’s spectacular victory over Australia was apparently enough to save the job of Samurai Blue head coach Hajime Moriyasu.

Whether that salute is deserved is another question, the result still leaving Japan with two wins and two losses after four games – their worst start to the final group stage of World Cup qualifying since 1998.

After the defeats to Oman and Saudi Arabia and a mixed victory over China, speculation was circulating among local media that failure to beat the Socceroos forced the hand of Japan Football Association president Kozo. Tashima, who steadfastly supported Moriyasu despite the struggles of the senior squad and a frustrating Olympic campaign that ended without a podium.

“We must continue to give our full support to Moriyasu and the players,” Tashima told reporters on Wednesday morning. “After a win like last night’s, now is not the right time for us to consider such a change.”

With his tactics and caps increasingly criticized after Thursday’s loss to the Saudis in Jeddah, Moriyasu could not have hoped for a better series of developments to change the narrative.

Japan’s first home game at Saitama Stadium in two years, in front of its biggest home crowd since the start of the pandemic? To verify.

An early goal from a little used young player – in this case Ao Tanaka of Fortuna Düsseldorf, making his first appearance in senior competition – to rock the crowd? To verify.

Chances galore, suggesting that a second goal was never far away and that Japan’s recent struggles to finish would soon be a thing of the past? To verify.

All of this was indicative of a tactic showing that Moriyasu, who has often been accused of playing so as not to lose in that qualifying round, was finally here to win it.

“In training I talked about how I wanted us to defend aggressively, push towards the opposing goal and play positively,” said Moriyasu. “We were in difficult circumstances and under pressure, and personally I wanted to aim for victory instead of playing it safe.”

But the second goal didn’t come, and Japan’s hopes were left in limbo when Australia’s Ajdin Hrustic equalized in the 70th minute with a mesmerizing free kick from the edge of the penalty area.

After 15 agonizing minutes, the kind of moment that so often threatens to overwhelm the emotional analysis, with Takuma Asano’s chip shot at Socceroo goalkeeper Mat Ryan deflecting from the far post to Aussie defender Aziz Behich and the- over the line for an own goal.

The tumultuous celebrations made for excellent TV, with Asano’s teammates piling on top of him on the sidelines and fans singing despite anti-coronavirus protocols banning cheering still in effect. A cheerful Moriyasu was only too happy to take advantage of the moment, greeting home fans after the game.

Moriyasu waves to Japanese fans after Tuesday's victory.  |  KYODO
Moriyasu waves to Japanese fans after Tuesday’s victory. | KYODO

“Today’s game was tough, but we were able to play so bravely because we had the fans behind us and I wanted to thank them,” Moriyasu said of the trade. “I told them that we still have a tough campaign ahead of us to qualify for the World Cup and that I want them to keep fighting with us.”

This is not the first time that Moriyasu, who was also questioned after the game about his tears during the Japanese national anthem, has relied on appeals for emotion.

After Japan’s August 6 loss to Mexico with a Tokyo 2020 bronze medal on the line, the former Sanfrecce Hiroshima player and manager spent most of his post-match press conference discussing not tactical aspects of the 3-1 defeat, but rather the anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city which fell on the same day.

As Moriyasu answered more questions about his tactics on Tuesday, the dramatic nature of the victory – against the country’s biggest rival in a game he couldn’t afford to lose – seems doomed to do little more than paper on the multitude of cracks that have surfaced since taking over the program after the 2018 World Cup.

Charged with the task of accompanying a new generation of players to the national team as the stars of the previous three cycles begin to age, Moriyasu has often squandered Japan’s strongest player pool, instead of sticking to it. to familiar names based in Europe who have struggled in their clubs.

His addiction to Leganes midfielder Gaku Shibasaki, who started in Japan’s first three Group B games after failing to make the squad earlier this year, has become a point of particular frustration for fans and the experts.

“From a defender’s perspective, Shibasaki is not a threat,” former Japan international Rui Ramos wrote for Chunichi Sports on Friday after a mistake by the 29-year-old led to the winner of the match. ‘Saudi Arabia. “What’s most disconcerting is that no one on the bench for Japan was mad at him no matter how many times he lost the ball.

“This goal was symbolic of how half-hearted Japan were playing, and you can’t forgive it as a professional.”

It was only with his back to the wall on Tuesday that Moriyasu used some of the young talent at his disposal, with Ao Tanaka and Hidemasa Morita shining in midfield in place of Shibasaki and Daichi Hayashi.

A little more bravery – for example replacing starting striker Yuya Osako, a technical assistant who against the Socceroos was unable to hit the side of a barn, along with prominent Celtic Kyogo Furuhashi – could have resulted in a second and maybe even a third goal before half-time. .

Samurai Blue players greet fans after their victory over Australia on Tuesday at Saitama Stadium.  |  KYODO
Samurai Blue players greet fans after their victory over Australia on Tuesday at Saitama Stadium. | KYODO

Going forward, the question will be how Moriyasu treats Tuesday’s result. Was it a bandage that did just enough to stop the bleeding, allowing him to revert to the risk aversion tactics the team showed in their first three games?

Or was it exploratory surgery that showed the patient – Japan’s ambitions for a seventh consecutive World Cup and progression to the quarterfinals and beyond – needs more aggressive treatment? does he want to survive?

That answer won’t become clear until November, when the Samurai Blue travel to play last-place Vietnam, as well as Oman, who will feel confident after their surprise September 2 victory at the Panasonic Stadium Suita. Anything below six points will be a blow to Japan’s hopes of an automatic berth in Qatar, increasing the likelihood of having to qualify through next summer’s intercontinental qualifiers.

If Moriyasu can show that he believes in the new generation of Japanese players and give them the freedom to play to their full potential, chances are he and Samurai Blue supporters across the country will be rewarded.

But if he returns to form and sticks with his established squads and conservative lineups, the JFA could prepare to watch the World Cup from the comfort of their living room, wishing they had the resolve to change course. the team when there was still an opportunity. do this.

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