Japan gathered for friendlies against Uruguay and Colombia with a clear goal: get ready for the 2023 Asian Cup.
This was the Samurai Blue’s first gathering since the FIFA World Cup and with eyes now on the Asian championship, they have to build quickly for the upcoming tournament After a draw against Uruguay and a hard fought match with Colombia, Hajime Moriyasu has to feel good about the team’s progress.
Japan had the majority of possession against Uruguay at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo and were able to stand toe-to-toe with one of the world’s best midfields. While they did fall behind in the 38th minute on a Federico Valverde goal, the Samurai Blue did not flinch and continued to play with confidence.
As was the case at the World Cup, substitutes made a major impact off the bench and it culminated when Yokohama F·Marinos’ Takuma Nishimura equalized moments after coming into the match.
The Samurai Blue had chances to win the match, but the way the midfield of Wataru Endo and Hidemasa Morita, and then Ao Tanaka as a substitute, matched Uruguay’s outstanding men in the middle certainly bodes well looking towards the summer.
Things started fabulously for Japan against Colombia in Osaka with Kaoru Mitoma skying to head home a cross from Morita just three minutes into the match.
Armed with a lead, the Samurai Blue tried to dictate play from the center of the pitch and, once again, did a pretty good job against a very good opponent. Unfortunately, Los Cafeteros found a goal in the 33rd minute to bring the match level, then Rafael Santos Borré scored a magnificent bicycle kick from the rebound of a good Daniel Schmidt save to win it for the visitors.
In all, Japan showed they can play well against two strong opponents. They began to turn over the team to younger players, with F.C.Tokyo’s 21-year-old Kashif Bangnagande making his first-ever start and Shonan Bellmare’s Shuto Machino getting a long look, which is crucial with so many talented stars coming up in the new cycle, too.
Now the Samurai Blue will be off until June, when they will reconvene to continue to coalesce and grow as they look towards the all-important Asian Cup on the horizon.