With the Confederations Cup around the corner, Goal analyses the systems of each side. In this edition, Brendon Netto takes a look at Japan...
Japan are the flagship nation for Asian football at the moment especially since winning the Asian Cup in 2011. The majority of their squad ply their trade in some of the top leagues in Europe and they will be a match for anyone they come up against. They are coming into the Confederations Cup on a high after becoming the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
They drew against Australia on the 4th of this month to secure their place in next year’s tournament. They’ve been drawn in arguably the tougher of the two groups in the Confederations Cup as they accompany Brazil, Mexico and Italy in Group A.
Coach and System
Alberto Zaccheroni has 27 years of managerial experience in Italy and is putting it to good use as he leads Japan. He has the distinction of managing the likes of AC Milan, Inter Milan, Lazio and Juventus. He even won the Scudetto with Milan in the 1998-99 season and led Japan to victory in the 2011 Asian Cup.
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Zaccheroni sets his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The emphasis of their system will be in attack and they have plenty of quality to excel in the attacking third. Japan can employ a possession based style of play but given the quality of the teams in their group, they may well have to conduct most of their attacks on the counter.
They have a good attacking shape and are especially equipped to launch quick counter-attacks and it’s that ability on the break that could prove to be their most lethal weapon. Creativity and good passing is the essence of their gameplay but Zaccheroni has also instilled in them organization and discipline.
The experience of Yasuito Endo and Yasuyuki Konno in particular brings good balance to the side. To allow the trio of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki the freedom to express themselves in the final third, Japan will deploy two holding midfielders to anchor their attack in Endo and their captain, Makoto Hasebe.
Honda thrives in his attacking midfield role and has a knack for finding space between the lines of the opposition’s midfield and defense. A regular initiation of a Japanese attack begins with one of the two holding midfielders playing a pass straight down the middle to Honda in space who turns and looks to play more penetrative passes.
Kagawa and Okazaki start on either flank but they’re far from your typical wingers. They rarely hug the touch-line and instead choose to drift infield and link up with Honda. The quick, intricate passing between the trio often carves open defenses with Ryoichi Maeda working hard as the front man.
The striker pushes the opposition's back line fairly deep with his persistent forward runs, thereby creating space for the second line of attack to create chances. Furthermore, his prolific nature in front of goal holds him in good stead although he's been known to go missing when facing top quality defenses outside of Asia.
With the wingers drifting inside, the attacking full-backs, Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo provide the width in attack. However, they normally advance only one at a time. Both full-backs won’t bomb forward together in order to protect against a counter-attack.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Strengths: The Japanese like to keep the ball but they are well set-up for the counter-attack as well and that could be their greatest strength. The attacking trio of Kagawa, Honda and Okazaki ensures that the team play quick passing and are intelligent in their build-up. Their playmaking ability is a treat to watch. They could benefit from set-pieces as well as Endo and Honda are both outstanding free-kick specialists.
Weaknesses: The defense is the main area of concern for Zaccheroni’s side. When Japan have the ball, they can maneuver an opening against the best defenses but they are vulnerable without it. They failed to keep a clean sheet in their last four games. Konno has been included to bring experience to the back-line but they are still lacking. They may struggle when defensing set-pieces as well because of their height disadvantage.
Star man: Shinji Kagawa
Shinji Kagawa is quite literally the poster boy for Japanese football and an iconic figure for Asian football as well. He can already be regarded as one of Asia’s most successful players in Europe, perhaps second only to former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung, having won three league titles in his first three years plying his trade in the continent. He followed up back to back Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund with a Premier League title at United.
His former manager Jurgen Klopp regards him as one of the best players in the world and Alex Ferguson has tipped him to excel in the forthcoming season. His creativity, passing range with both feet and his eye for goal makes him a lethal force in the final third. Although he thrives when playing behind the striker, he lines up on the left flank for Japan and drifts inside to cause problems and exploit the space between the full-back and center-back.
Kagawa may have taken a bit of time to settle into the Premier League but his form in the second half of the season was inspirational and bodes well for the future. At only 24, he has a great career ahead of him and will be looking to improve on his 2011 Asian Cup winners’ medal with Japan. He’s capable of producing something special and he may have to if Japan are going to advance from a difficult Group A.
|What do you make of Japan's chances? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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