Expression ironed off his face, Hajime Moriyasu had mentioned, “of course against Spain we are going to go for a win. That is the only thing we are thinking about. Four days after that comment made following the defeat to Costa Rica, Japan walked Moriyasu’s talk. With 17% possession, the lowest in a win in World Cup history, and with all the help from technology they could get.
The was-it-in-was-it-out debate for the move that led to Ao Tanaka’s 51st minute matchwinner in the 2–1 win was settled by the goalline cameras. The goal stood and that meant for the first time there would be three teams from the Asian Confederation in the Round of 16. South Korea also advanced to the Round of 16 after their 2–1 victory over Portugal on Friday.
Japan topped a group that had Spain and Germany, who were out because the ball for Tanaka’s move was not, and Australia were second behind France from among a quartet that had Denmark, semi-finalists in the last European championship and with a slew of players in Europe’s top leagues led by that generational talent Christian Eriksen.
“This is great for Asia. The continent is getting stronger and stronger,” mentioned Australia trainer Graham Arnold. “The Middle East has already developed as have Japan and South Korea. We have a lot of traveling to do which makes it harder but we are catching up too.”
Arnold’s point about the “Middle East”, or west Asia, was borne out by reports of Cristiano Ronaldo being given a jaw-dropping £173m offer a season from Saudi Arabian club Al Nasr. The Asian Football Confederation changing its calendar to August-May from 2023-24 to align it with Europe has also happened at Saudi Arabia’s behest because the oil-rich state wants to attract top talent.
Australia though “were the last team you would be talking about when it came to chances of a last-16 berth,” said Arnold. They had qualified by winning a playoff against Peru here, riding the heroics of reserve keeper Andrew Redmayne. “But once you are on the pitch, it is 11 v 11,” he said ahead of Saturday’s knockout round game against Argentina.
With clubs in the J-League growing from 10 in 1993 to 58 now, the competition developing from a closed shop to one spread over three tiers, Japan has covered most of the country in a manner that could be a lesson for India. They export footballers to different parts of the world and are now confident to take football’s biggest stage with a homegrown coach. “Japan wants to compete on the world stage. It is important to do that to improve football in Japan,” mentioned Moriyasu.
“What Mr Moriyasu did,” mentioned Yoshiyuki Osumi, a journalist with soccertalk.jp, “is making the most efficient of a foul scenario. Moriyasu has been in fee since 2018 and with such a lot of gamers based totally out of the country may best teach for per week earlier than the World Cup, mentioned Osumi.
“He performed Spain with (Yashuhito) Endo and (Hiroki) Sakai injured and Hidemasa Morita, Daichi Kamada and Takuma Asano now not totally are compatible,” said Osumi who has reported on every World Cup since 1974.
This is the fourth time after 2002, 2010 and 2018 that Japan have made the round of 16. If they beat Croatia on Monday, they will qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time.
At 59, Arnold is five years older than Moriyasu. Both have played for the country; As player and coach Arnold has been involved with football in Australia for 37 years and on Friday referred to beating Argentina in the last century. “We have spoken a golden generation of 2006, that got three points. This one has six, so maybe it is time to talk about a new golden generation,” mentioned Arnold.
One that has united a country, “more than cricket,” mentioned Arnold, and may not be afraid to appear Argentina within the eye.