Japan have come to Qatar with a young squad where only midfielder Yasuhito Endo is aged above 30, but with ambitions to bring back the Asian Cup to the land of the rising sun.
Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa was one of the best Japanese players in Qatar, but he will miss the final
Japan, joint record Asian Cup champions along with Iran and Saudi Arabia, can now become the first team on the continent to win the title for the fourth time. But for that they will have to beat Australia in Saturday's final.
Alberto Zaccheroni replaced Takeshi Okada after the successful 2010 FIFA World Cup, where Japan lost against Paraguay on penalties. The Italian, who until then had only coached in his home country, had been quite a surprise announcement as Japan coach, as other candidates had been seen as more suitable for the job. But Zaccheroni has done a decent job since coming in by winning friendlies against Paraguay, Guatemala and mighty Argentina. And at the Asian Cup, his team has grown in stature and confidence with each game.
Press briefing by the Japanese team in Doha on Friday, with coach Zaccheroni (2nd from right) and captain Hasebe (3rd from right)
The successful trio of European league players in captain Makoto Hasebe (VfL Wolfsburg) plus forwards Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow) and Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) form the heart of the team.
The experienced Hasebe, who has now been playing in Germany for three years, has been holding his team's game together along with Endo in defensive midfield, allowing attacking players like Honda, Kagawa, Okazaki and Maeda the space to move forward and score for Japan.
Keisuke Honda was one of Japan’s stars in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and he has been one of the influential players for the Blue Samurais here in Doha too, especially in the semifinals against South Korea, where he played an exceptional game.
21-year-old Shinji Kagawa is the new poster boy of Japanese football after a sensational first half of the season in Germany’s Bundesliga for Dortmund. And Kagawa in patches, especially against Qatar in the quarterfinals, showed his great potential. But in the semifinal against South Korea he broke his foot and will be missing the final.
Shinji Kagawa (in wheel chair) is already back in Germany
Tournament so far
Japan made a slow start into the tournament. They stared defeat in the face during their opening Group B match against Jordan but were able to score a late equalizer. In their second match they came out 2-1 winners against Syria, although some controversial referee decisions went against them. And they thrashed a pathetic Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their final group game. This set-up a quarterfinal clash with hosts Qatar and Japan prevailed 3-2 in an entertaining, but often close contest.
In their semifinal Japan won 3-0 on penalties after the match had ended one-all after 90 minutes and two-all after extra-time at the Al Gharafa Stadium. The hero of the day was goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who saved two of South Korea’s three penalties.
Author: Arunava Chaudhuri (Doha)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein