Samurai Blue

Kiyotake, Haraguchi goals push Japan past Saudi Arabia

Japan defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1 on Tuesday night in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier.

The hosts’ starting lineup featured three J.League representatives in Urawa Reds goalkeeper Shusa-ku Nishikawa, FC Tokyo defender Masato Morishige and Cerezo Osaka midfielder Hotaru Yama-guchi.

The Samurai Blue pressured from the opening whistle at Saitama Stadium 2002 but did not take the lead until just before half-time when Hiroshi Kiyotake converted a penalty called for a handball in the Saudi penalty area moments earlier.

Japan maintained their 1-0 lead until the 80th minute, when Genki Haraguchi made it 2-0 from close range. 

While Saudi Arabia captain Omar Hawsawi managed to pull a goal back just 10 minutes later, a red card to captain Osama Hawsawi left the visitors unable to equalise in stoppage time and Vahid Halilhodzic’s men rightfully celebrated a 2-1 win.

Japan finished the year with a 3-1-1 record in Group B, good enough for second place on the strength of 10 points heading into what will be a crucial second half of the final qualifying round in 2017.

Samurai Blue

Halilhodzic: Japan must believe in ability

Vahid Halilhodzic emphasised Japan’s quality but warned them not to underestimate Saudi Arabia ahead of their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.

The Samurai Blue are currently in third place in Group B with seven points, while a win would draw them even on points with the current leaders.

“We don’t have to overthink this match,” Halilhodzic told a press conference. “We know it won’t be an easy job but that’s why we’ve worked so hard in training.

“Saudi Arabia have been a difficult opponent in the last few years, especially physically and tactically. 

“They have individual quality [and] a football intelligence that Japan lacks, so we have to avoid falling into their traps.

“This group is very close and we know this match will be difficult, but we have the quality to win.”

The match will kick off at 19:35 JST at Saitama Stadium 2002.

Samurai Blue

Osako brace pushes Japan past Oman

Japan defeated Oman 4-0 on Friday night in a Kirin Challenge Cup 2016 friendly at Kashima Stadium.

Kashima Antlers central midfielder Ryota Nagaki started in his senior debut, while FC Tokyo centre-back Yuichi Maruyama earned his first national team start.

Yokohama F. Marinos attacker and MEIJI YASUDA J1 League October MVP Manabu Saito also made his return to international play for the first time since a pre-2014 FIFA World Cup friendly against Zambia.

The Samurai Blue started slowly, but began to establish their pace 20 minutes into the match and finally broke the deadlock in the 31st minute when Koln’s Yuya Osako headed in a cross from Sevilla’s Hiroshi Kiyotake. 

The two would team up again to score another goal less than 10 minutes later to make it 2-0 at the half.

Kiyotake scored a goal of his own from the spot in the 64th minute after Stuttgart striker Takuma Asano drew a penalty, and Heerenveen’s Yuki Kobayashi netted his first international goal deep into additional time.

In total, six J.League players appeared in the match including goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa of Urawa Reds, midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi of Cerezo Osaka and substitute centre-back Masato Morishige from FC Tokyo.

Japan are next scheduled to face Saudi Arabia in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, November 15 at Saitama Stadium.

Samurai Blue

Halilhodzic prepares for Oman test

Japan head coach Vahid Halilhodzic told media on Thursday that he intends to rorate his squad for the team’s friendly against Oman on Friday.

The match at Saitama Stadium will serve as a key test ahead of the Samurai Blue’s 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, November 15.

“I want to give a chance to players who haven’t gotten an opportunity yet I hope they can show me their quality,” Halilhodzic said. 

“I also want to see how our players in Europe who haven’t gotten many minutes are doing.

“We’re organised well, but the four goals we’ve conceded came from set pieces and we could have easily stopped them. 

“I’ve warned my players that they’ll try to draw fouls from us and we can’t fall into that trap.

“Everyone needs to work hard and assert themselves at their position so we can prepare for our match against Saudi Arabia.”

Samurai Blue

Ideguchi, Saito amongst Japan call-ups for Saudi Arabia match

The Japan Football Association on Thursday announced its squad for the country’s upcoming international matches.

10 J.League players were called up by coach Vahid Halilhodzic, including Gamba Osaka midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi who earned his first senior selection.

The Samurai Blue will host Oman in the friendly Kirin Challenge Cup 2016 on November 11 at Kashima Stadium.

Halilhodzic’s men will then welcome Saudi Arabia to Saitama Stadium 2002 for a key FIFA 2018 World cup qualifier.

Japan Squad for November 2016 internationals

Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds)
Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka)
Eiji Kawashima (Metz / France)

Hiroki Sakai (Marseille / France)
Gotoku Sakai (Hamburger SV / Germany)
Yuto Nagatomo (Inter / Italy)
Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds)
Maya Yoshida (Southampton / England)
Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo)
Yuichi Maruyama (FC Tokyo)
Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers)

Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt / Germany)
Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka)
Yosuke Ideguchi (Gamba Osaka)
Ryota Nagaki (Kashima Antlers)
Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund / Germany)
Hiroshi Kiyotake (Sevilla / Spain)
Yuki Kobayashi (SC Heerenveen / Netherlands)

Keisuke Honda (AC Milan / Italy)
Takuma Asano (Stuttgart / Germany)
Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin / Germany)
Manabu Saito (Yokohama F. Marinos)
Yuya Osaka (Koln / Germany)
Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City / England)
Yuya Kubo (BSC Young Boys / Switzerland)

Samurai Blue

J.League goalkeepers to convene for national team camp

The Japan Football Association on Thursday announced its list of participants for next week’s national team goalkeeper training camp.

The list includes established Samurai Blue and Urawa Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, Rio 2016 participant Kosuke Nakamura and US-born Daniel Schmidt.

The camp will take place from October 17 through 19 at Osaka’s J-Green Sakai.

List of Japan NT Goalkeeper Camp Participants:

Masaaki Hisashiguchi (Gamba Osaka)
Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds)
Akihiro Hayashi (Sagan Tosu)
Daniel Schmidt (Matsumoto Yamaga) *
Masatoshi Kushibiki (Kashima Antlers) *
Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol) *

* First NT training camp selection

Samurai Blue

Japan earn tough away draw against Australia

The Japan national team fought to a 1-1 draw with rivals Australia on Tuesday night in a crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier.

The Samurai Blue made four changes to their starting lineup from Thursday’s 2-1 win against Iraq, with Keisuke Honda established as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation which included five J.League players in Shusaku Nishikawa, Masato Morishige, Tomoaki Makino, Hotaru Yamaguchi, and Yu Kobayashi.

Their early tactics were rewarded just five minutes into the match when Hertha BSC attacker Genki Haraguchi slotted the ball under goalkeeper Mathew Ryan.

Japan held on for a 1-0 halftime lead despite an increasingly persistent Australia attack, but shortly into the second half it was Haraguchi again at the center of things. 

This time, his foul on an Australian attacker saw the referee point to the spot, with captain Mile Jedinak successfully converting to even the score at 1-1.

The game ended honours even, but not before FC Tokyo defender Yuichi Maruyama made his international debut in stoppage time. 

The result sees Japan move to third place in Group B with seven points from four matches; their next qualifier will take place against group leaders Saudi Arabia on November 15 at Saitama Stadium.

Samurai Blue

Kobayashi: Socceroos showdown key to Russia qualification

Japan striker Yu Kobayashi says a win against Australia on Tuesday night will bring them great confidence for the rest of their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

The Samurai Blue are on the back of three consecutive wins but face arguably their biggest challenge so far against the Asian Cup champions in Melbourne.

However, Kawasaki Frontale star Kobayashi feels Japan can target a good result at Docklands Stadium in an “important” match on their road to qualifying for Russia.

“He’s [coach Vahid Halilhodzic] told us that this match will have a significant effect on whether or not we’ll appear in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, so we need to be prepared and carry out our responsibilities,” Kobayashi told reporters.

“That’s absolutely true and if we can beat Australia away it will give us a lot of confidence. This is an important match in terms of getting out of this group, and we want to prepare well.

“I think we’ve got a good mood in the squad, there’s a good sort of pressure and everyone is in full voice.

“They focus on possession and move the ball around; it’s different from my past impressions of the team.

“When it comes to passing the ball around I think Japan are stronger technically. If we can get the ball, we’ll be able to create chances.”

Samurai Blue

Halilhodzic: Japan need luck against Australia

Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic spoke to reporters on Monday ahead of their clash with Australia in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying.

The Samurai Blue will meet the Socceroos at Docklands Stadium in Melbourne on Tuesday in a match that will heavily influence both teams’ quest to top Group B.

“We’re facing the strongest team in Asia at the moment,” Halilhodzic said. “They’re a well-organised and quality team. But each team has a weakness. 

“Even if they’re the strongest team, we have to prepare well for our important task.

“We controlled the ball a lot in the second round of qualifying, but Australia could press high. They have a lot of players based overseas and they’re strong physically, plus of course they’re at home. 

“Teams pressure harder when they play at home. We haven’t faced this sort of situation, but I’ve told the players not to panic. 

“We’ll need to manage the small details, concentrate, and have some luck go our way. It’s going to be a very tough match, but I’m looking forward to seeing how we play tomorrow.

“Some of our key players haven’t played much recently, and that’s affected our quality. Yet we’re still creating more chances than anyone in Asia.

“The quality of our play depends heavily on our physical condition. I can’t predict how much we’ll improve, but our key players are missing a lot at the moment.”

Samurai Blue

Halilhodzic: Japan learned courage

Japan national team head coach Vahid Halilhodzic praised the courage of his team following their dramatic 2-1 win over Iraq in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying.

“I want to congratulate my players for playing bravely and with strong feeling to win this game, and thank our supporters for cheering us on until the very end,” he told reporters afterwards. 

“This was an important victory. I told the team to show their emotions. It was a difficult match but a deserved win.

“[Hotaru] Yamaguchi played superbly against Thailand, and (his appearance today) was a tactical choice. I wanted him to press high and finish the play with a shot if he could. 

“His aggressiveness and ball-winning abilities are very interesting. He doesn’t score many goals so today was fantastic. I joked to him and Makoto Hasebe that I would treat them to champagne if they scored, but Yamaguchi deserves two glasses.

“That many of our players can score goals is this team’s strength. [Takuma] Asano had two chances, Yamaguchi had other chances, Maya [Yoshida] had a chance with his header. 

“Everyone created chances. We have to improve our finishing, because we won’t be able to create 10 chances on goal in every match. I’m glad that Yamaguchi scored because he doesn’t score often, but we need players who can score more frequently.

“We’ll change two or three players [for the match against Australia]. The physical component will be very important. The players won’t recover fully in the two days before the match.

“We have a little bit more time but I’m sure the players feel good after this week. We haven’t won like this before. We didn’t just win the match, but we learned to play courageously. 

“Being able to earn better results even in difficult situations is an important part of football.”

Samurai Blue

Yamaguchi: We won as a team

Japan midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi said credit belonged to the entire team after he scored the dramatic game-winner in their 2-1 victory over Iraq in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying.

The Cerezo Osaka player made a massive impact coming on as a substitute, with his late strike enough to earn the Samurai Blue their consecutive wins on their road to Russia.

However, Yamaguchi insists he is not just to thank for a vital three points and that he is only concentrated on helping his side.

Asked why he ran to the bench to celebrate, he replied: “We won as a team, not as individuals, and I wanted to recognise that. 

“I thought the ball would be loose after the corner kick so I prepared for that. I’m just glad it went in. I just wanted to hit it hard enough to go through; if the ball rose any higher it would have hit a defender so I’m glad I could control it.

“Originally I was supposed to come on when we were leading 1-0, but [Iraq] scored while coach [Vahid Halilhodzic] was giving me instructions. The game opened up with that score, and the midfield became bogged down once I came on which made things difficult.

“Have I scored a more dramatic goal before? Probably not. But I’m more happy about Japan winning than I am about the goal.”

Samurai Blue

Yamaguchi seals dramatic Japan win

Japan defeated Iraq 2-1 on Thursday night in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying thanks to a dramatic stoppage-time goal by Cerezo Osaka midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi.

J.Leaguers Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Reds), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo) and Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Reds) started the match at Saitama Stadium on the pitch. 

The first half went well for the hosts, with Genki Haraguchi heeling the ball into the net to take the lead in the 25th minute.

But the Samurai Blue were thrown into disarray at the hour mark when Iraq equalised on a set play, and the pressure for a game-winner increased as the second half continued.

With six minutes of stoppage time on the board and one last-gasp corner kick remaining, it was Yamaguchi who pounced on a loose ball to deliver a stunning volley and give Japan a crucial victory.

Vahid Halilhodzic’s men will now travel to face reigning Asian champions Australia, who drew 2-2 with Saudi Arabia, in Melbourne on Tuesday.

Samurai Blue

Halilhodzic: Pressure can be good for Japan

Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic expects his side to learn how to cope better with pressure ahead of their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Iraq on Thursday night at Saitama Stadium.

Following their loss to UAE and win at Thailand in the opening round, the Samurai Blue are in third place in Group B with a key encounter against Asian Cup champions Australia awaiting them in Melbourne on Tuesday.

“There’s always a lot of pressure in the final qualifying round, and that should help the players focus on the match,” Halilhodzic told reporters. “You can’t just play well, you have to play fantastically.

“It’s the World Cup […] which has political and economic ramifications. If you have any ambition you need to be able to handle pressure. Nobody’s going to give us any presents. We have to hunt for wins in order to qualify.

“That sort of pressure doesn’t exist in Japan, for better or for worse. I’ve managed various teams, and there was 10 times as much pressure back then. I’ve explained the current situation to our players. If they play with feeling, their strength will emerge in tough situations.

“There are stronger opponents waiting for us. If we make it to the final tournament we’ll have three group stage matches watched by 100 million people, and the pressure will continue to mount. 

“You don’t have to hide it; pressure is a good thing. It serves as motivation. Experienced players can control themselves in this sort of situation, but younger players may not be able to. 

“They get caught up in the pressure.”

Samurai Blue

Saito joins national team aver Usami, Muto withdraws

The Japan Football Association on Saturday announced changes to the Samurai Blue squad for Japan’s upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

Yokohama F. Marinos striker Manabu Saito has been called up following injuries to Augsburg striker Takashi Usami and Mainz striker Yoshinori Muto over the weekend.

Saito, who was a part of Japan’s 2014 FIFA World Cup squad, joined the team in training on Sunday.

Samurai Blue

Dominant Japan victorious in Thailand

Only the heroics of Thailand’s goalkeeper kept the scoreline respectable as Japan eased to a 2-0 win in 2018 World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

War Elephants custodian Kawin Thamsatchanan was heroic between the hosts’ posts as Vahid Halilhodzic’s men laid siege all night, racking up 11 shots on target by the end.

Japan therefore racked up their first points of the final qualifying round after losing 2-1 at home to UAE in their first outing and proved their intent from the first minute in Bangkok.

Genki Haraguchi opened the scoring in the 18th minute when he headed in Hiroki Sakai’s cross, before Takuma Asano doubled the lead in the 75th minute to make all three points safe.

Thailand finished the match with 10 men after the killer blow when Deeprom Prakit saw red for a bad tackle on Shinji Kagawa.

Samurai Blue

Halilhodzic: Japan must improve in front of goal

Vahid Halilhodzic has urged Japan to turn over a new leaf in front of goal beginning from their 2018 World Cup qualifying clash with Thailand.

The Samurai Blue travel to face the Southeast Asian giants at Rajamangala Stadium days after suffering an inauspicious 2-1 home loss to UAE at the start of their campaign.

And while Halilhodzic blamed the referee, he also maintained that his men must help themselves and take their chances while being less careless at the back.

“We’re not Barcelona, but [against UAE] we took 25 shots. About 13 of them were good chances on goal,” the coach told reporters on Monday. 

“If you compare us to any other country in the world, we created a lot of good chances. But scoring goals has been a problem for us. 

“Sometimes we’re denied goals even after we score them, and I don’t want to be denied again. It was difficult to accept that loss; we were sometimes treated unfairly by the referees.

“We’re not happy with it, but life goes on. I tried hard to encourage rather than criticise any specific players. 

“We gave them two goals wrapped up in a bow but I tried to let the players recover, and we ate at the Japanese restaurant next to the hotel.

Nevertheless, Halilhodzic expressed confidence ahead of the Thailand encounter and expects a good performance, even if he warned Japan about the atmosphere awaiting them in Bangkok.

“We were all saddened by Thursday’s result but we had to get back into a positive frame of mind,” he continued. 

“We need to steel ourselves ahead of Tuesday’s match. Thailand played a very good match against Saudi Arabia on Thursday and they probably deserved a better result. 

“I’m very familiar with the atmosphere at Thailand’s home games. I’ve seen video of several matches and they’re very passionate, with great support. They play very well at home. 

“They’re fast and their play advances quickly. Both Japan and Thailand have enough quality to control the match. There aren’t any easy matches in the final round of qualifying.

“Thailand’s fans are incredibly passionate and I expect a good showing from Japanese fans too. We’ve prepared well to win this match.”

Samurai Blue

UAE slump represents Japan’s state, says Halilhodzic

Vahid Halilhodzic was resigned to defeat as he spoke to media on Thursday night following Japan’s 2-1 home loss to UAE in their 2018 FIFA World Cup AFC Final Qualifying opener.

Ahmed Khalil struck twice from set-pieces after Keisuke Honda had opened the scoring, providing the Samurai Blue the worst possible start in their bid to appear in Russia.

And Halilhodzic believes the slump in front of fans at Saitama Stadium reflects the nation’s current state of readiness and wants to see more determination against Thailand on Tuesday,

“I’m stunned. This result represents our current strength. We have to accept it,” the coach told reporters. “There were high expectations of this team. 

“We worked hard in training and prepared, but we weren’t able to play to people’s expectations. I wanted the players to move the ball faster, but we were unable to do so. Our opponents played more realistically.

“Even with a tough result like this one, there were some positives. But before the match, I predicted that we wouldn’t be able to play at our best. 

“I think the players will be able to recover physically ahead of the second match, and we’ll be able to play faster. I’m going to warn the players that they need to defend better and not give up fouls.

“We have a lot to correct, but we’re constantly pursuing our ideal and I believe we’re playing better. 

“We need to be mentally stronger against Thailand, and to do that we have to overcome our fatigue and look for three points. I haven’t given up hope at all.”

Samurai Blue

Japan undone by set-pieces in shock UAE defeat

Ahmed Khalil shocked a sold-out Saitama Stadium on Thursday when his brace enabled UAE to defeat Japan 2-1 in the first match of the final phase of 2018 World Cup qualifying.

Japan had taken the lead when Keisuke Honda stole in at the back post to head home a free-kick in the 11th minute.

But AFC Player of the Year Khalil equalised before half-time with a ferocious free-kick of his own that Urawa Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa was unable to stop, tipping the ball off the underside of the bar before it crossed the line.

Set-pieces continued to prove Japan’s undoing after the break as Ismail Al Hammadi was pulled down in the box and Khalil calmly dispatched a panenka-style penalty to hand his side the 54th-minute lead.

Shinji Okazaki then had the Samurai Blue’s best chance to equalise but hit the bar as UAE clung on to a shock win over their Vahid Halilhodzic’s hosts, who will next look to turn things around when they take on Thailand on Tuesday.

Samurai Blue

Japan coach Halilhodzic demands UAE result

Vahid Halilhodzic has warned that Japan cannot relax and afford another debacle like the Singapore one as they enter the third and final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying.

The Samurai Blue take on UAE on Thursday at Saitama Stadium looking to get the last phase of qualification off to a good start.

And Halilhodzic wants his players to keep their focus as the campaign gets serious, and is confident they will deliver in front of their fans.

“Our opponents are a very good team. Now that we’re in the final round of qualifying, these are games we have to win,” the coach told reporters. “We’ve already made a lot of preparations. 

“We’ve faced various difficulties but we’ve faced them in training and I believe we’ll be able to play well in this important match.

“We’ve spent a lot of time preparing for this match. We’ve looked at a lot of videos and analysed a lot of matches. We understand how UAE play, their strengths, and their weaknesses. But we haven’t had much time on the pitch.

“We experienced [the 0-0 draw] against Singapore and understand that anything can happen in football. There are a lot of things we can’t predict, and that’s what makes the sport so interesting. 

“This is an important first step for us. We want to win this match and then win in Thailand. Our opponents aren’t going to hand us three points, so we have to go out and take them. 

“We have to do everything we can to win.”

Despite expressing his hope, Halilhodzic did acknowledge difficulties in getting the players together for sufficient training sessions amidst scheduling inconsistencies.

“Different players have different circumstances, advantages, and disadvantages,” he said in response to the European season just starting in relation to the J.League. 

“A lot of players are in Europe. With the season just beginning, unfortunately all of them aren’t starting for their club.  It’s a difficult time to pick a national team squad. As far as our local players, right now Japan is very hot and the players are fatigued. 

“It’s difficult to choose the sort of players we want to use. Other players are dealing with light injuries. 

“But despite these challenges, we know that Saitama Stadium will be packed tomorrow and the players will be ready to win. This team has plenty of quality and experience. We’ll be able to control the match, but it won’t be easy.”

Samurai Blue

Endo, Maruyama called up to Samurai Blue squad

Urawa Reds’ Wataru Endo and FC Tokyo’s Yuichi Maruyama have been called up to Japan’s national team for their upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

The announcement from the Japan Football Association comes after defenders Tomoaki Makino and Yuto Nagatomo were forced to withdraw from the squad due to injuries.

11 J.League players are in the current roster for the Samurai Blue, who will host UAE on September 1 before traveling to face Thailand on September 6.