By: Kento Kato
With an important World Cup qualifying match coming up against group leader, Saudi Arabia on the 15th, Japan looked to use it’s friendly against Oman as a crucial preparation match. The Japanese side sent out some familiar and new faces from the starting whistle as Yuya Osako made his first appearance since June of 2015 and Manabu Saito also made a return to the lineup. Midfielder Ryota Nagaki, and side back Yuichi Maruyama also started the game. It was an opportunity for the recent absentees to make an appeal to coach Halilhodžić. while the usual starters were able to get some run in while trying to improve their chemistry with some of the potential starters for the upcoming match.
There were mostly positive vibes as the game resulted in a 4-0 win for the Japanese side. Osako wasted no time making his impact felt scoring 2 goals before halftime with Hiroshi Kiyotake, who has been one of the best players for the Japanese side, delivering key assists on both of them. In regards to Osako, head coach, Halilhodžić said, “Osako scored two goals and he was playing a different role to the one he usually does with his club. He is a good candidate to play against the Saudis.”
Takuma Asano, who has also received a lot of attention recently, made his mark as a substitute by drawing a penalty kick in his 2nd minute of action. And the feel good win was capped off by Yuki Kobayashi, who scored his first international goal in just his second game. The newer, younger players were able to deliver and showed what they were capable of, while regulars like Okazaki, Honda, and Kiyotake were able to get back into game shape.
All that said, there were still some things that the side will want to fix. As has been the problem with most of the Asia qualifiers, the team had moments in which they struggled to connect on long vertical passes. Halilhodžić has wanted his side to implement more and more aggressive vertical passes but it has not always worked out. This then leads to counter opportunities and a breakdown in momentum, even if Japan is carrying the game at their pace. And this the root of the few problems the side had. Reporters talked about the side’s struggle to contain Oman’s counters but a lot of that probably had to do with the Japanese players being out of defensive position because many of the counters came off of inadvertent passes.
Overall though, it seemed like a good confidence builder ahead of what will be the most important game of 2016 for the Japanese side. It has huge implications on the World Cup and the players know more than anyone just how much a win would mean. When asked about his thoughts going forward, Kiyotake answered, “The next game is the important one and I want to prepare well to win it. That’s a game that we need to take three points from and we will be giving our all to do that.” With coach Halilhodžić referring to this as a good game that gave him a lot to think about in terms of who to start, it will be interesting to see what kind of lineup the coach sends out.