AFC Asian Cup: Japan's squad depth gives them the edge over Saudi Arabia
In their three group games, Japan used as many as 22 players
The Samurai Blue may not have illuminated AFC Asian Cup with their football, but their squad depth stunned rival managers when they beat the talented Uzbekistan 2-1 in their final group game despite their coach Hajime Moriyasu making 10 changes to their team.
In their three group games, Japan used as many as 22 players and yet they didn't drop a single point against Turkmenistan (3-2), Oman (1-0) and Uzbekistan (2-1).
Now as they prepare to face Saudi Arabia in their Round of 16 clash at the Sharjah Stadium on Monday, Moriyasu kept his cards close his chest.
"Yes, we have tried 22 players in the three matches. We will be picking our best XI tomorrow. But I can't reveal the team today," Moriyasu said at the press conference on Sunday.
But Moriyasu admitted that beating Hector Cuper's Uzbekistan in the final group game with his squad players was immensely satisfying.
"Of course, we were hugely satisfied with our performance in the last group game. As you know, we made too many changes. Every strong team needs to have more than one good player for each position. I think we have shown that we do have quality in our squad," said Moriyasu who can bank on 13 Europe-based players for the knockout game against Saudi Arabia on Monday.
"The tournament has now reached the knockout stage. We have played well in the three matches in the group stage. We have prepared well for tomorrow. Hopefully we will play a great game," he said.
"As you know, Saudi Arabia is one of the big teams in Asia. But we are positive about our chances."
The Saudis, according to Moriyasu, will be highly motivated to win on Monday.
"As you know, Saudi Arabia lost their third game in the group stages. So they will be highly motivated tomorrow. They will have a strong desire to win the match. We need to focus on that," he said.
Meanwhile, experienced Japanese defender Hiroki Sakai, who started the game against Uzbekistan, was brimming with confidence ahead of the big clash.
"We need to win. It's simple. Without winning, we can't reach the next stage. We need to show our maturity as a team," said Sakai who plays for French giants Marseille in Ligue 1.
Sakai says his main goal will be to stop Saudi Arabia - who tend to play without a centre-forward - from scoring.
"We don't know if they will play without their number nine. We know they have good midfield players. But as a defender, it's important that we don't concede a goal. We are focused on that. But at the same time, we have confidence in their offensive players' ability to score goals," he said.
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