Persistence Pays Off as Japan Warm Up for Asian Cup with Win

REUTERS/Issei Kato
Soccer Football – International friendly – Japan v Thailand – Japan National Stadium, Tokyo, Japan – January 1, 2024. Japan’s Ao Tanaka celebrates scoring their first goal.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu hailed his team’s persistence after they warmed up for this month’s Asian Cup with a 5-0 friendly win over Thailand in Tokyo on Monday.

The four-time Asian champions were held scoreless in the first half in front of a New Year’s Day crowd of more than 60,000 before breaking Thailand’s resistance after the interval.

Japan will start as one of the favourites to win the Asian Cup in Qatar and Moriyasu warned that they will need to show the same spirit when the tournament kicks off on January 12.

“They weren’t an easy team to break down but the players attacked with positivity,” said Moriyasu, who was set to name his 26-man squad for the tournament later in the day.

“It didn’t happen for us at first but we stuck to the task and kept attacking time and time again, and we got our reward with our goals in the end.”

Moriyasu fielded an inexperienced line-up missing several overseas-based players against a Thailand side that is also heading to the Asian Cup.

Ao Tanaka broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half before goals from Keito Nakamura, Takumu Kawamura, Takumi Minamino and a Thailand own goal gave the hosts a comfortable win.

Moriyasu said his players had been proactive in attacking the opposition but urged them to keep improving.

“In order to win at the Asian Cup and to beat the very best teams in the world, we have to be dogged in defence and get better at winning the ball back from them,” he said.

Thailand’s Japanese coach Masatada Ishii was taking charge of his team for the first time since replacing Alexandre Polking in November.

He said he felt “a big difference between the two teams”.

“I had only watched Japan’s games on TV before, and you really notice their speed and accuracy when you face them at close quarters,” he said.

Japan have been drawn in Group D at the Asian Cup and will face Indonesia, Iraq and Vietnam in the first round.

Thailand will play Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan and Oman in Group F.

Japan lost to Qatar in the final of the 2019 tournament in the United Arab Emirates, while Thailand were eliminated by China at the last 16.

“I saw my players play today with an aggression that they don’t normally have in Thailand,” Ishii said.

“They fought until the end and when I see that, it makes me believe in them.

“They have quality, and it’s about how I can draw that out of them even further.”