After we previewed last time’s winner South Korea yesterday, the time has now come to take a look at the hosts of the 2017 EAFF Championship; Japan. The Samurai Blue are led by the very experienced Bosnian coach Vahid Halihodzic, the former Yugoslavia star took Algeria to a quarter-final in the 2014 World Cup and has been in charge of the Japanese team since 2015.
The year so far has been a success for Japan as they, like South Korea, have qualified to represent Asia in the 2018 World Cup in Russia next year, where they find themselves in a group with Colombia, Senegal and Poland.
The year started well with the United Arab Emirates and Thailand being easily dispatched in the World Cup Qualifiers in March. The summer brought a 1-1 draw with Syria in the Kirin Challenge Cup, a glorified friendly, at home in Tokyo, before World Cup Qualifiers returned for another 1-1 draw, this time away against Iraq. More qualifying followed in August as Australia was dispatched 2-0 at the Saitama Stadium to secure a spot in the World Cup before the first loss of the year came in the final qualifying match, where Samurai Blue fell to a 1-0 defeat away to Saudi Arabia.
After the qualifiers ended it was back to more Kirin Challenge Cup matches and October saw a 2-1 win over New Zealand and a poor 3-3 draw with Haiti.
The run-in to this tournament has not been good for Japan as they decided to play very heavy opposition in their two friendlies last month. A 3-1 loss to Brazil in France was followed by a 1-0 loss to Belgium a couple of days later, it should be mentioned that most of the players featuring in this tournament did not play in those two matches.
Players to Watch
As the eagle-eyed of you will notice, this Japan team comes without it’s biggest stars as the Europen football season is still in full flow. There is no Shinji Kagawa or Maya Yoshida, nor is there any Keisuke Honda in this team. Neither are there any CSL representatives as all the players ply their trade in the Japanese league.
There is, however, one man that might be familiar to those with an interest in German or Spanish football as Hiroshi Kiyotake is a part of this team. The former Hannover and Sevilla man returned to his homeland after a very poor season for Sevilla and Japan will be hoping that his silk touch, precise passes and blistering long shots can help them on their way to secure a second win in this competition.
Also worthy of a mention is Yasuyuki Konno. The utility man who can play in the centre of midfield or defence and as a fullback has more than 400 matches in the Japanese top flight for FC Tokyo and Gamba Osaka as well as over 90 caps for Japan. His calming presence in midfield could allow Kiyotake freedom to roam as much as he wants.
Japan Squad for the 2017 EAFF E-1 Football Championship
Goalkeepers: Shuichi Gonda (Sagan Tosu), Masaaki Highashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol)
Defenders: Ryo Hatuse (Gamba Osaka), Genta Miura (Gamba Osaka), Shintaro Kurumaya (Kawasaki Frontale), Daigo Nishi (Kashima Antlers), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers), Shuto Yamamoto (Kashima Antlers)
Midfielders: Yosuke Ideguchi (Gamba Osaka), Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Cerezo Osaka), Kento Misao (Kashima Antlers), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale), Yojiro Takahagi (FC Tokyo)
Strikers: Hiroyuki Abe (Kawasaki Frontale), Junya Ito (Kashiwa Reysol), Mu Kanazaki (Kashima Antlers), Yu Kobayashi (Kawasaki Frontale), Shu Kurata (Gamba Osaka), Kenyu Sugimoto (Cerezo Osaka)