Japan meet the UAE at Stadium Australia tonight at 8:30pm AEST in the last quarter-final of the Asian Cup. MICHAEL PETKOVIC previews the action.
Their last meeting came 3 years ago where Japan overcame the Emirati in a 1-0 victory. Their last Asian Cup meeting was a 3-1 win to Japan in 2007.
Japan loves the Asian Cup. They have reached the quarter finals for the seventh successive time and in four of the previous six tournaments they have gone on to win the competition. On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates are experiencing finals football for the first time since the 1996 Asian Cup, where they lost in the final against Saudi Arabia in a penalty shootout.
The most interesting statistic to consider in the lead up to this fixture is the fact that Japan has managed to keep three clean sheets in the tournament so far. Even more impressive is the fact that they have restricted their opponents to only four shots on target in all three games combined. This remarkable statistic is made even more interesting since the UAE failed to get one shot on target in a game against Iran where they dominated the ball but failed to threaten the goal.
The UAE will be facing a completely different proposition on Friday night. Iran were happy to allow UAE to have the ball, absorbing the pressure and then punishing them on the break and through set pieces. Japan will do the opposite, dominating possession and getting the ball out wide to their tricky wingers, who are masters at delivering dangerous balls into the box where Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda await to deliver the lethal finish. This will be a huge challenge for the Emirati whose weakness is dealing with balls coming into the box from wide areas. They have conceded all their goals in the tournament so far in exactly this manner.
The Samurai Blue have favoured starting up play from the defence, sitting high up the field and limiting the space available. They then distribute the ball to the Japanese midfield that thrive in those tight spaces. This is encouraging for the UAE as they will be able to challenge quickly on the break with their three dangerous attackers Omar Abdoulrahman, Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkout. If the energetic UAE players can put the defence under pressure and stop their build up play, they could disrupt Japan’s style and even force an error that can be exploited.
The big issue
Japan are yet to reach their peak but they have been slowly building towards it – solid without being amazing. Is Friday the day they show their full potential and stake their claim for the title, or will they conserve their energy? Doing so could prove fatal against a team with a dynamic attacking triumvirate.
While Keisuke Honda has already scored three goals so far, he and Shinji Kagawa are yet to meet expectations. They may need to give their all against a UAE side that can pose a threat in the attacking third unlike any team Japan has faced so far.
Prediction: Japan 2- 0 UAEcomments