Hajime Moriyasu says best yet to come from Japan as Samurai Blue seek record fifth Asian Cup crown
Japan take on a Qatar side yet to concede a goal in the tournament in Friday's championship match in Abu Dhabi
Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu believes the best is yet to come from his team as they bid to extend their record as the Asian Cup's most successful side when they face Qatar in Friday's final.
Having topped Group F with wins over Turkmenistan, Oman and Uzbekistan, Japan then saw off Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Iran in the knockout stages to reach Friday's title decider.
Monday's 3-0 semi-final win over tournament favourites Iran signalled the Samurai Blue's title credentials but they face in Qatar a team boasting the tournament's top scorer Almoez Ali and a defence yet to be breached in six matches.
Moriyasu said his side had improved with every match at the tournament and that he was confident Japan would be crowned Asian Cup winners for a record-extending fifth time on Friday.
“We are aware we are up against a strong team, but no matter who they are and how strong they are, we will play to our strengths as we have done all through the tournament,” Moriyasu told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
“We respect every opponent and want do our best to win the game. We have reached the final having improved after every game, and hopefully, play our best football in the final.”
Having won their first five matches by a solitary goal Japan cut loose against the Iranians at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. Moriyasu said his players had shown great aptitude dealing with each opponent's styles they had faced so far, a trend he expects to continue against Qatar at Zayed Sports City.
“We have come to the last match of the tournament and we have a better idea of who we play,” he said.
“The players can now read the game and are playing as a unit. Looking back, we played different opponents, sometimes we held the ball and other times we played freely.
“I don’t know how the game will pan out but we’ll play our own strategy and to our strength.
“We already played six matches against opponents playing different styles of football. We have one more challenge and we are confident we can continue to play well as we have played so far.”
Victory on Friday would see Moriyasu become the first to win the Asian Cup as both manager and player, having been part of the squad that won the 1992 tournament on home soil.
However, the former midfielder said now was not the time to focus on individual accolades.
“If that happens, it’s fine, but I’m not after individual records,” he said.
“We want to win the Asian Cup as a team for Japan and all other individual records can wait. We have come this far and now we want to finish it off. We are going into this game with the utmost preparation.”
Captain Maya Yoshida is the only surviving member of the team that lifted the Asian Cup in Qatar eight years ago under Alberto Zaccheroni.
The defender said that it was impossible to make comparisons between the two squad, adding that enjoying one more day's rest than their opponents could work in Japan's favour.
“That team eight years ago cannot be compared with the current squad because now we have a younger with more experience of playing abroad, particularly in Europe,” said Yoshida, the Southampton centre-back.
“We had had short intervals between games to prepare for the next but one advantage we may have is that Qatar has had one day [rest] less than us. However, all the same, nobody needs more motivation than playing in a final.
“If we can play as a unit at every situation the outcome will get better. The team is motivated and in good momentum. We can switch on and switch off on the pitch according to the situation. Hopefully we can win.”
We want to win the Asian Cup as a team for Japan and all other individual records can wait. We have come this far and now we want to finish it off. We are going into this game with the utmost preparation.
One cloud hanging over the final is the Asian Football Confederation confirming on Thursday that it had received a formal protest from the UAE Football Association regarding the eligibility of two Qatari players following Tuesday's 4-0 semi-final loss.
The FA allege that Almoez Ali, a 22-year-old striker born in Sudan, and Bassam Al Rawi, a 21-year-old defender born in Baghdad, do not qualify to play for Qatar on residency grounds because they have not lived continuously in the Gulf state for at least five years over the age of 18.
Ali played in the match, scoring the second goal at Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium, while Al Rawi was suspended for the match.
The protest will now be reviewed in line with the AFC Regulations, the governing body said.
When asked about the UAE's complaint against the Qataris, Yoshida said: "It’s [under the] AFC control and we don’t have anything to do [with it]."
Updated: January 31, 2019 04:03 PM