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HOME > SAMURAI BLUE > ASIAN QUALIFIERS - ROAD TO RUSSIA [6/13] TOP > NEWS > SAMURAI BLUE secure top-three spot after draw with Iraq~FIFA World Cup Final Asian Qualifiers 8th Match~


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SAMURAI BLUE secure top-three spot after draw with Iraq~FIFA World Cup Final Asian Qualifiers 8th Match~

14 June 2017

SAMURAI BLUE secure top-three spot after draw with Iraq~FIFA World Cup Final Asian Qualifiers 8th Match~

SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) on Tuesday 13 June faced Iraq National Team at the PAS Stadium in the neutral city of Teheran and saw forward OSAKO Yuya (1.FC Koeln) score the opening goal, but forced to a draw after conceding a second-half equaliser.

As a result, Japan improved to 17 points with 5 wins, 1 loss and 2 draws and maintained the top spot of Group B, one point ahead of second-placed Saudi Arabia and third-placed Australia, both sitting on 16 points.

In the blistering sun and intense heat with temperatures heading north of 37℃, Japan, despite scoring the opening goal, endured a difficult match after a string of injuries.

Coach Vahid HALILHODZIC employed a 4-2-3-1 formation to face an important away encounter. As with the previous match, two centre backs were defenders SHOJI Gen (Kashima Antlers) and YOSHIDA Maya (Southampton FC), and, making his debut in the starting line-ups for the national team, midfielder IDEGUCHI Yosuke (Gamba Osaka) paired up with midfielder ENDO Wataru (Urawa Red Diamonds) for the first time as defensive midfielders. Aligned from right to left, three attacking midfielders were forward HONDA Keisuke (AC Milan), who started the game for the first time in five games, forward HARAGUCHI Genki (Hertha BSC Berlin) and forward KUBO Yuya (KAA Gent).

Japan got off to a fine start by scoring an early goal. In the 7th minute, Osaka battled the way into penalty box, before Haraguchi robbed the deflection and earned a corner. Then, Osako headed home Honda's placed-kick delivery at the near post to open the scoring for his side.

Despite missing the chance of World Cup Qualification, Iraq entered the match with younger line-ups and managed to put strong pressure on the Japanese counterparts even under the scorching heat.

After the opening goal, Japan's midfielders failed to keep their positions high and were forced back to cope with Iraq’s attacks. Exploiting space in midfield, the Iraqi squad started to fashion few chances with midfielder MAHDI KAMIL combining well with defender ALI ADNAN KADHIM on the left and midfielder AHMED YASEEN GHENI on the right and strung few effective passes. However, the Japanese defenders evaded the menacing chances from the Middle Eastern side and kept them from levelling the match.

Japan also orchestrated a pair of scoring opportunities in the remainder of the first half. In the 27 minute, Osaka contested a long throw and seemed to have slipped past an Iraqi defender inside the box, but failed to make a scoring attempt and instead a goal kick was given at the end of the play. Subsequently, after 36 minutes, defender SAKAI Hiroki (Olympique de Marseille) sent in a brilliant through pass, but just out of reach of onrushing Kubo.

In the second half, the momentum shifted as Japan started to show fatigue and their work-rate came down, while Iraq continued to press hard and threatened the Japanese goal.

Injuries did not help the Japanese squad either. Midfielder KONNO Yasuyuki (Gamba Osaka) was brought on for Ideguchi after colliding with an Iraqi player in the 59th minute and Sakai Hiroki was replaced by SAKAI Gotoku (Hamburger Sport-Verein) in the 76th minute with a bruised hamstring.

Prior to the second injury replacement, Japan nearly scored after Osako finding a loose ball from a left cross at the near post in the 65th minute and from a short corner where Honda found unmarked Haraguchi just outside of the box one minute later, but both attempts at goal did not find the target.

In search for an insurance goal, Japan subbed in KURATA Shu (Gamba Osaka) for Haraguchi in the 70th minute, but challenged to their physical limits, Halilhozic’s men could not keep up with the threatening Iraqi attacks. In the 72nd minute, forward ALAA ABDUL ZAHRA barged into the penalty area and, while defender Yoshida was trying to secure the loose ball for goalkeeper Kawashima, forward MOHANAD ABDULRAHEEM fiercely pressured the Japanese centre half from behind and forced a collision with his own keeper, before KAMIL coming in from the opposite side tapped the deflection into the net to tie the score.

Last-ditch efforts were made by the Japanese team to reclaim the lead in added time of second half from a pair of attempts from Honda. In the first minute after regulation, Kurata contested the ball with an Iraqi defender for it drop towards Honda waiting just outside of the box, but the shot was blazed over the crossbar. Four minutes later, a throw-in was cushioned well by Yoshida for Honda to fire at goal, but this time the opposing goalkeeper firmly secured the ball. With both sides failing to find the decisive goal until the final whistle, the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

Match Report

There are two more matches remaining in the Final Asian Qualifiers. Japan can book a place in the World Cup for the sixth time in six straight tournaments with a win against Australia on Thursday 31 August in Saitama, before playing the final match in Saudi Arabia.

Coaches' and Players' Commennts

Vahid HALILHODZIC, Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
Since we came here to win the match, I am not satisfied with the result at all. During halftime, I advised my players, ‘we can seal this match with the second goal’. We fashioned few scoring chances after the break, but failed to convert them into goals. Both sides fought really hard and were fatigued. I was looking to bring on a forward player with speed in the last quarter of the match, and had a different game plan than how the game progressed. However, due to injuries, I could not sub in a new player onto the pitch. My players did their best under these tough circumstances. Players based abroad were testing their pain barriers after just finishing their respective league competition, and so were the ones playing in Japan.

Iraq are a wonderful team with many talented and quality players possessing excellent skills and have a great potential. However, we were the better side in today’s match and merited a win. In the first half, we had a situation, where the penalty kick might have been awarded on some other day. Small things could make a huge difference in a match. The conceded goal was almost a gift, where our goalkeeper and defender had different ideas. We will treat the coming Australia game like a “final” of the tournament.

FW #4 HONDA Keisuke (AC Milan)
We were looking for a win, rather than settling for a draw. It is disappointing, but we cannot change the result and are better off shifting our focus to the next game. Speaking of my plays, I had no problem in handling the ball and controlling the match, but I wish I had created few more chances. We’ve got to win the next one. We might be better off now that our task has been clarified and do not have to deal with ambiguities of considering a draw. I will take it positively.

FW #15 OSAKO Yuya (1.FC Koeln)
(Regarding the goal) An excellent ball came to me, and all I had to do was to direct the shot at the near post. It went in just as I imagined. We conceded a goal right after when our team started to think about keeping the same scoreline and ending with a 1-0 win. After we scored the goal, we sat back a little too much as well. Heat certainly influenced our play, but we should have been more persistent in keeping our players forward. If we win next one, we can clinch it. Considering this as a chance, we hope to take a positive stance as a team.

GK #1 KAWASHIMA Eiji (Football Club de Metz)
Towards the end of the match, we conceded a goal that could have been prevented. Nobody on our team is satisfied with the situation we are in. We need to refresh our mind and keep our heads up and think positively.

DF #22 YOSHIDA Maya (Southampton FC)
Taking advantage of the Syria match last week, we got off to an excellent start. However, we failed to score the second goal and let the game slip away. In the second half, our work-rate came down. We might have been too aggressive in the first half and ran out of gas. Our opponents knew exactly how to play under these circumstances, and controlled the pace and managed the game better than us by saving their energy.

BASIM QASIM, Coach of Iraq National Team
I would like to praise my players for their relentless fighting spirit against the potent Japanese team regardless of not having a chance to qualify for the World Cup. It was a wonderful game not only for us but also Iraq as well.


Sun. 28 May PM Training
Mon. 29 May AM/PM Training
Tue. 30 May AM/PM Training
Wed. 31 May AM/PM Training
Thu. 1 June AM/PM Training
Fri. 2 June AM/PM Training
Sat. 3 June AM/PM Training
Sun. 4 June AM Training
Mon. 5 June PM Training *
Tue. 6 June 17:00
Official Conference (Tokyo Stadium)
Official Training (Tokyo Stadium)*
Wed. 7 June 1-1 KIRIN CHALLENGE CUP 2017
vs Syria National Team (Tokyo Stadium)
Thu. 8 June AM Training
Fri. 9 June PM Training
Sat. 10 June PM Training *
Sun. 11 June PM Training *
Mon. 12 June TBC Official Conference
Official Training (PAS Stadium) *
vs Iraq National Team (PAS Stadium)

*Local Time
*The schedule is subject to change due to the team condition, the weather, etc.
*Open to the media for the first 15min.


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