DUBAI // Miguel Rodrigo, the Japan coach, believes his team played like true "Samurais" as they defeated Thailand 6-1 to win their second AFC Futsal Championship in front of a huge crowd at Al Wasl Stadium.
Japan, struggling for goals in their past two matches, made a blazing start and could have won by a greater margin if not for the outstanding performance of Surapong Tompa, the Thailand goalkeeper.
"We deserved this great win," Rodrigo said. "We played like the real Japan… without fear, without nerves, lots of possession, good set-play. For the first time in this tournament, we have played with joy and liberty.
"Until the last match, we were very tentative. So I would like to congratulate my team because their attitude in this game resembled that of authentic Samurais."
Henmi Katsutoshi almost put Japan ahead in the second minute with a rasping volley, but Tompa made a good stop.
The keeper, however, could do little two minutes later when Kogure Kenichiro angled the ball past him to put Japan ahead. A couple of minutes later, Kawahara Hisamitsu, the Japanese keeper did well to keep out Sarawut Jaipech's attempt from long range.
A Thailand counter-attack in the 11th minute, however, caught the Japanese defence off-guard and Kritsada Wongkaeo lobbed the ball over the charging Hisamitsu to equalise.
The Japanese were, however, back in the lead in the 15th minute when Kitahara Wataru squeezed the ball through the legs of a defender into the far corner. Thailand had a chance to put pressure on the Japanese when Kithara was sin-binned for a foul in the 27th minute, leaving Japan a man short for the next two minutes.
Rodrigo had no complaints about the red card and congratulated the match officials for allowing a "very entertaining, very masculine game".
However, despite their best efforts, the Thais could not find the equaliser. Instead, Japan got their third in the 31st minute when Kotaro Inaba scored from a free-kick.
"The crucial moments for us were when we didn't score in the four against three situation," said Victor Hermans, the Thailand coach. "Towards the end Japan made it look easy and their every shot went into the goal."
Two goals down and with seven minutes to go, Thailand went for the powerplay, bringing on an extra outfield player for the keeper, but the ploy did not work for them, allowing Japan to add three more to their tally.
Katsutoshi volleyed the ball into the unmanned goal in the 34th minute and three minutes later, Hisamitsu got himself on the scoresheet. Osodo Nobuya then made it 6-1.
"As a coach, you have to take some risks, but I am sure the fans enjoyed a good game till 2-1," Hermans said. "My players should be proud of what they did this week. We need to take these results and work on making a better team. I am very positive. I don't think we will make a bad impression in the World Cup at home [in November]."
Iran's Vahid Shamsaee bagged the top scorer award for the eighth time in the Futsal Championships, while Japan's Henmi Katsutoshi won the Most Valuable Player title.
Meanwhile, Ali Sanei, the Iran coach, admits he faces an inquisition back home when he returns without the AFC Futsal Championship trophy.
Winners of 10 of the previous 11 Asian championships, Iran were stunned 4-5 in the semi-final by Thailand on Wednesday. They bounced back to beat Australia 4-0 in the play-off for third place, which assures them of a direct qualification for the next continental championships.
The win over the Aussies, however, was no consolation for Sanei, who is already facing a backlash in the Iranian media over the team’s failure to go all the way and his own inexperience as a coach at this level.
“Of course, we expect a difficult time when we return home,” said Sanei. “The fans will not accept any excuses for our failure to win the title. They were all waiting for us to return to Tehran with the trophy.
“That defeat against Thailand was just an accident. If we were to be in that same situation again, I can assure you we would win 20 out of 20 times. But these things happen in sports. We need to consider this loss as a positive.
“It was a warning for us and a wake-up call ahead of the World Cup [in November], and when we return home we need to analyse and see what went wrong. If we have to make changes, we will do it and make sure we are 100 per cent ready for the World Cup.”
Sanei’s contract with the national team is up for renewal in two months, but whether he stays on or leaves, the coach is hoping the team will learn from their experience here and bounce back stronger.
“Whether I remain as head coach or not, that decision will be made by the federation,” he said. “But the important thing is we learn our lessons from this defeat and use this experience to our benefit.
“If we can do that, then I am sure, come the World Cup, we will be right there among the top four teams.”
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE