By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese football has been built around defensive solidity and organisation in recent years but with new coach Hajime Moriyasu removing the shackles and adopting a more attacking style of play the Samurai Blue hope to light up the Asian Cup with goals.
Japan will be among the favourites at the Jan. 5 to Feb. 1 tournament in the United Arab Emirates, where they begin their campaign for a record-extending fifth continental title in Group F alongside Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
In five friendly games under former international midfielder Moriyasu so far, Japan have compiled four wins and a draw, scoring 15 goals along the way.
The highlight of his short time in charge was a 4-3 win over Uruguay in October, where Japan’s more expansive style of play was there for all to see.
Moriyasu has stuck with the same formation as his predecessor Akira Nishino, who replaced Vahid Halilhodzic in April before exiting after the World Cup, with three attacking midfielders deployed behind a central striker.
Moriyasu, however, has changed personnel and asked the trio to attack with more commitment and threat.
Behind experienced Werder Bremen forward Yuya Osako, Moriyasu’s preferred three of Ritsu Doan, Shoya Nakajima and Takumi Minamino have just 18 caps between them.
Salzburg’s Minamino has four goals to his name since Moriyasu took over but it is diminutive 24-year-old Nakajima who has caught the eye, with his pace and vision sure to excite in the UAE.
A 4-0 rout of Kyrgyzstan in their final tune-up marked a third clean sheet in five games for Japan’s defence, which is led by captain Maya Yoshida.
Yoshida was the only man in Moriyasu’s most recent squad with over 50 caps and, along with midfielder Gaku Shibasaki, is one of only two players to have featured at an Asian Cup.
Moriyasu may also look to bring in some additional experience to the squad, with Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa and defender Yuto Nagatomo, who is currently out injured, likely candidates for call-ups.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)