Maya Yoshida has led Japan into a fifth Asian Cup final since 1992, but insists the continental giants have to be crowned champions otherwise it “means nothing”.
The Samurai Blue put Iran to the sword in Al Ain, Yuya Osako netting a quickfire brace either side of the hour mark before Genki Haraguchi rounded off a flattering 3-0 victory in stoppage time.
Japan are record four-time winners of the Asian Cup and are looking to extend that to five in Friday’s final where they will take on Qatar.
They have earned all of their continental wins inside the last 27 years and their latest final appearance will be their fifth in the last eight editions of the tournament, an unprecedented feat.
Yet, progression to the showpiece means nothing unless they are victorious, declares the stalwart centre-back.
“That’s what everyone expects from us,” said Southampton centre-back Yoshida when asked about his side’s progress after the game.
最高の勝利！— Yuto Nagatomo | 長友佑都 (@YutoNagatomo5) 28 January 2019
We are Japan 💪💪🇯🇵
Great victory 👍 pic.twitter.com/W5aD0as9gW
He said: “We have to be champions. We have to win every time in Asia.
“Four years ago we had a huge disappointment (Japan were beaten by the UAE in the quarter-finals). If we lose (the final) it means nothing. We have to be in the final and we have to be champions.”
In a tense and tight game in the Garden City, Hajime Moriyasu’s men went ahead in fortuitous circumstances in the 56th minute, Takumi Minamino going to ground easily in an attempt to win a free-kick.
But as the Iran players stopped, believing Australian referee Chris Beath would award them a free-kick, the Red Bull Salzburg forward rapidly picked himself up and kept the ball in play. He then delivered a fine cross for Werder Bremen striker Osako to head home.
It was a body blow to Team Melli, who then conceded a penalty 10 minutes later when Minamino’s cut-back struck the rash Morteza Pouraliganji on the arm as he slid in needlessly.
And Yoshida admitted the Samurai Blue were ruthless and showed a cutting edge when Iran were vulnerable.
“I think their intensity dropped a little bit in the second half and we knew that,” added the 30-year-old.
“We were very well organised and scored the first goal, and after that they missed the organisation. They left many gaps between the players, that’s our favourite way of playing and after we scored they took some risks up front and we counter-attacked and scored again.”
The skipper was also warm in his praise of the man alongside him in Japan’s backline – Takehiro Tomiyasu. The 20-year-old, who was also imperious in the tense 1-0 round of 16 triumph over Saudi Arabia, is the joint youngest player in Moriyasu’s new, youthful squad, and was winning just his eighth cap in Al Ain.
“He’s been on form throughout the tournament to be honest,” said Yoshida of the youngster, who plays in Belgium’s top flight with Sint-Truiden.
“Tom’s at that age where he plays like he’s 25 or 26-years-old. He’s one of the most talented players in Japan. I’ve tried to make his level higher, which he has to overcome. Individually, he pushes me a lot, which makes me more concentrated and I feel really good playing with him.”
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