Japan 3-2 Qatar: Kagawa helps Japan into semis

January 21, 2011

The starting line-ups

Japan were reduced to ten men, but came from behind to knock out the hosts in a superb game.

Alberto Zaccheroni welcomed back goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima after suspension, Keisuke Honda replaced Yosuke Kashiwagi, and Masahiko Inoha came in for Yasuyuki Konno, with Atsuto Uchida moving to centre-back.

Bruno Metsu made one change. Out went Mohammed Kasola, in came Mesaad Ali Al-Hamad.

Qatar started the better side. They pressed Japan well in midfield, not allowing their midfielders to settle on the ball, closing them down quickly and winning the ball back high up the pitch. The two Qatari strikers didn’t close down the Japanese centre-backs, but instead dropped deeper and made it difficult for the defenders to play forward passes into their holding players, which meant Japan struggled to get the ball forward.

High lines

Japan were playing decent football in the final third, but were playing a high line, which exposed them to quick, basic counter-attacks. In fact, both sides were pushing their defence up the pitch, resulting in a congested midfield zone where neither side could truly get hold of the ball. A simple ball over the top found Sebastien Soria through on goal (Masahiko Inoha was playing him onside) and he opened the scoring after 12 minutes.

Japan’s backline was interesting – it was a nominal back four, with two centre-backs and two full-backs, but the defence sometimes readjusted with one of the full-backs bombing forward and the other dropping in to form more of a central back three. This most commonly featured the excellent Yuto Nagatomo pushing on down the left, as depicted in the diagram, and Japan were more of a threat down that side throughout.

That was partly thanks to Nagatomo and partly thanks to Shinji Kagawa, who was the game’s best player by a long way. Qatar tired quickly and started pressing much less, with their defensive line dropping deeper and the game opening out. This benefited Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, and those two combined well with Shinji Okazaki for the equaliser. Most of Japan’s good play involved that trio – Ryoichi Maeda, who started as the striker but sometimes switched with Okazaki, was poor.

Second half

The best action occurred after half-time. First, Metsu seemed to change his formation slightly, with Yusef Ahmed playing towards the right touchline, probably in order to pin back Nagatomo. Metsu also withdrew winger Mohamed El Sayed and brought on Fabio Cesar, more of a ball-playing midfielder who operated more centrally.

After Japan went down to ten men

The game changed when the referee sent off centre-back Maya Yoshida after he collected a second yellow card – and then Cesar sent the resulting free-kick straight into the net, courtesy of some horrendous goalkeeping by Kawashima. Zaccheroni then had the problem of having to strengthen his defence at a time when Japan needed to search for another goal. He took off striker Maeda and brought on another centre-back, Daiki Iwamasa, playing a 4-2-3 system.

10 v 11

Qatar were guilty of not making the most of their extra man. In part this problem was caused by Cesar, who made the midfield much narrower and meant Qatar weren’t stretching the play as much as a side playing against ten men should, and part of it was simply an overcautious approach that invited Japanese pressure and allowed Zaccheroni’s side the majority of possession. Japan were not particularly worse off without Maeda and passed the ball excellently as Qatar tired even further, giving the central midfield duo of Makoto Hasebe and Yasuhito Endo too much time on the ball.

Japan essentially won the game by (a) putting together good passing moves, (b) being brave and (c) having Kagawa on their side. He scored the second goal with a calm finish over the goalkeeper to make it 2-2, and then late on he was key in the winner. That goal owed a lot to an absolutely superb drilled pass into the box from the wonderful Hasebe to Kagawa, who was fouled before he could get a shot away, but Inoha popped up to tap into an empty net. Japan’s courage is summed up by the fact they got their right-back into a goalscoring position when they were down to ten men, and they were rewarded for their patient passing game.

Conclusion

A truly superb match. Japan were the clear favourites here but only went ahead in the final minute, being forced to work very hard for their win by a well-drilled Qatar side, and by some controversial refereeing decisions.

Qatar were excellent without the ball in the first half but tired quickly, and then found themselves in a narrow shape when they had a man advantage, when they needed to stretch the play to drag the Japanese players around. Zaccheroni’s 4-2-3 meant Qatar couldn’t use their full-backs to provide that width, and the two goals towards the end came after sustained Japanese pressure.

Japan 3-2 Qatar: Kagawa helps Japan into semis

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