How Japan match up against the Socceroos

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    For both teams striding out onto the Saitama Stadium pitch on the 31st – the Japanese soaking in the whoops and roars of the home crowd, the Roos doing their best to shut them out – the significance of the fixture will be firmly in mind.

    A win in Tokyo would see the Socceroos take a grand bound toward automatic qualification, and would mean leapfrogging Japan in the group. The Samurai Blue – the current leaders – having spurned an opportunity to put telling distance between them and their Group B opponents in the last round, will be determined not to scupper this next chance.

    It will be a tetchy game; pressure can so often wrap constricting tendrils around the limbs of a sporting contest, and so both teams ought to prepare for a battle in which the finer details will be critical.

    In their last match, a disappointing 1-1 draw away to Iraq – a team already cast adrift along with Thailand at the foot of the group table – Japan were still able to muster a performance that, if not quite securing the maximum points return, still exhibited their strengths as a team.

    It was a stodgy affair against Iraq, with the Iraqis fouling often – the match foul tally ended 16 to 8 in favour of the Iraqi team – and set up to pump long balls deep into the Japan defensive half.

    Still, the first half nonetheless saw some sweeping counter-attacking moves from the Japanese, the exact kind that tend to trouble Australia and Ange Postecoglou’s back-three system.

    Sudden counter-attacks that apply devastating pressure to the space created behind drawn-out wing-backs are the poison to a back-three system, causing the centre-halves to scuttle out into uncomfortable wide areas to try and quell the threat.

    Here, Iraq make handsome progress down the far side, until the bouncing ball is cut out by Gen Shoji. The sudden transition, speared down the middle, the carried on at the feet of Genki Haraguchi, is typical of Japan in fine form.

    Their team is less a collection of disparate parts, and more a high-spec, interconnected machine, capable of combining with preternatural coherence. One and two-touch passing, and syncopated off-the-ball runs are both commonplace sights when Japan break, even under heavy pressure.

    A little later, the same again occurred, this time from the near side corner. Aerial duels are being staged deep in Japanese territory, until a skied clearance is caressed sublimely by striker Yuya Osako. Suddenly a central breakaway is in frantic flight, and the only way the Iraqi centre-halves can stop it is by fouling, earning an early booking.

    When the body-check occurs, there are flanking Japanese runners on either side of the field, and central support following up; this is how swiftly Japan can assemble themselves on the break.

    A third example, perhaps the best of the lot, was again presented in the first half. A punt deep into the right corner of the Japanese defence is made – not unlike one someone like say Mark Milligan might make toward a charging left wing-back – and is cleared blindly up field by Hiroki Sakai.

    Fortuitously, the ball lands at the feet of a Japanese attacker, but the sequence that follows is a symphony of light motif touches and passing, each more delicate and balanced than the last, all arranged at high-speed on the break. The final cadence was left ringing atonally though, as what would have been the crowning pass is over-hit.

    It’s no coincidence the break targeted the Iraqi’s left side, vulnerable and scrambling as it was following the unsuccessful long-ball raid.

    The flanks, and the defensive abilities of the players selected to play wing-back, have been the most tremulous aspect of Postecoglu’s system.

    Newly appointed Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou gestures to the crowd

    (Image: AAP/Joe Castro)

    Wing-backs, in theory, are supposed to add defensive reinforcement when out of possession, creating a formidable back-five. But so much of that theoretical success depends on the practical positional instincts of the individuals filling these roles. We’ve seen so many errors – as well as significant personnel turnover – in these areas over the last handful of games, to the point where they still stand as the most pressing areas of concern.

    It would be wise to put in place additional safeguards for the match in Tokyo. Aziz Behich or Alex Gersbach, both natural full-backs, should start on the left. If Matt Leckie is to start as right wing-back, then it’s essential Mark Milligan plays in the midfield, or on the right side of the back three.

    Not only is Milligan more mobile midfield choice than captain Mile Jedinak, or defensive alternative Milos Degenek, helping better to clamp down on slippery Japanese midfielders and attackers, his positional instincts are second to none in the national team, and his covering of the wing-backs – especially Leckie – will be essential.

    Bailey Wright, a highly traditional centre-half, is not especially suited to being one third of a back three – and has shown as much – and so Ryan McGowan, or newly called-up Matt Jurman would make excellent replacements. Jurman is left-footed, and would slot in nicely on the left side of the back-three. Obviously, Trent Sainsbury will occupy the middle.

    Socceroo Mark Milligan takes a shot on goal against South Africa

    (Peter Macalpine – Flickr)

    If Milligan is in the back three, as he was to such success against Chile in the Confederations Cup, a midfield of Mooy and Jackson Irvine would be athletic and mobile enough to match the Japanese skill and speed with skill and speed of their own.

    Irvine is a prodigious athlete, and a venomous tackler, and pairs well with the careful ball-playing Mooy. This takes care of the back half of the team. As far as Australian attackers go, Tomi Juric might be our most in-form player, and his size and strength will be very helpful against Japan.

    James Troisi scored our last international goal, and always provides a spritz of pace and directness whenever he plays. Tom Rogic, certainly our most skilled attacker, is also likely to earn a spot in the starting XI.

    These players can interchange, swapping sides, and both can drop deeper into midfield to affect the game there. Tim Cahill and Jamie Maclaren might also be used in a recessed striker’s role, the former offering increased aerial supremacy, the latter an increased threat to dart suddenly in behind the line of defence.

    Japan are a well-drilled unit, and they defend as a team almost as fluently as they attack. Take this example from the Iraq game: as the Iraqis linger patiently around the halfway line, it’s actually the Japanese defensive midfielder, Wataru Endo, who slides out to meet the man in possession as the ball is worked out to the far flank.

    Endo is beaten badly by a neat turn, but you can see that his diligence meant the other right-sided Japanese defenders could stay assembled in defensive formation, and as the Iraqi player makes further progress, he runs into a cul-de-sac.

    The Japanese funnel the play inside, still well stocked with marshalling defenders, and as the ball trickles across the box, it’s actually the No.11, winger Yuya Kubo, who clears the ball, having tracked all the way back on the weak side. The sequence displays a remarkable sense of group responsibility, of a shared and maintained duty to all contribute defensively.

    It won’t be easy to break down the Japanese defence, and their attack will be even more formidable, assuming Shinji Kagawa – who missed the Iraq tie through injury but has recently returned to training at Dortmund – is back in the squad.

    Ange and Australia will know that a draw against Japan, and a win over Thailand on September fifth, ought to be enough to finish in the automatic qualification spots, assuming Japan also win their final tie against Saudi Arabia – who are equal on points with Australia – which is also on September fifth.

    This should breed a sensible sense of conservatism for the match in Tokyo, and hopefully the Socceroos team-sheet and tactics reflect that. Australia will not cower under the heat of the occasion; we have won important qualification games before. But Japan are well equipped – almost purpose-built – to puncture our weakest points, and we’ll have to prepare every method of avoiding their prongs.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (27)

    • August 18th 2017 @ 8:06am
      Fadida said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      Assuming we play 3 cb’s, and I have more than made my feelings known on this, the 3 should be (right) Sainsbury, (centre) Milligan, (left) Spiranovic. Spiranovic has the balance to play on the left, unlike Wright. Jurman would be a massive risk, making his debut in as crucial qualifier, and quite frankly I don’t think he’s good enough. Sainsbury’s had the pace to cover Leckie, who is still prone to mistakes and being caught out of position.

      Irvine and Luongo surely deserve to keep their spots after the Chile game? It was the first time the system didn’t fail, and it was telling that neither Mooy, who has been very poor in the last 4-5 games, and Rogic didn’t start.

      • August 18th 2017 @ 9:06am
        punter said | August 18th 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

        You need either Rogic or Mooy to start, you cannot start Troisi. Very good reason why Mooy is in Premier league & Rogic playing for Celtic & Troisi playing in A-League.

        • August 18th 2017 @ 9:30am
          Fadida said | August 18th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

          We played Rogic and Mooy together in previous games and they were poor, as were results. Rogic plays in a competition that is A-league quality at best BTW.

          For years I heard that Jedinak should play ahead of Milligan because he played in the EPL, while Milligan played in the A-league. Strangely whenever Milligan played in the NT he was much more effective than Jedinak! Troisi was outstanding v Chile. It matters not where players play, only how well they play. Mooy has been disappointing the last 4-5 games. Rogic has been more effective but is still inked in to start. Fool’s logic Punter.

          • August 18th 2017 @ 10:49am
            punter said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

            I give you Troisi played well against Chile, I was surprised (happily), but what other time has he performed at that level for Socceroos, it’s been rare. He doesn’t have the potential of either Mooy or Rogic.
            You need to look at consistency, maybe our expectations is higher for Mooy & Rogic then for Troisi, who is a very good A-League player but not a massive standout. But, yes he did play well against Chile.
            If we base the our selections on that one match I agree, pick Troisi.

            Milligan is better against other Asian teams, Jedniak is better when we player better teams & we park the bus (like he did at Crystal Palace), but this is not Ange’s style, which is why it baffles me too.

            • August 18th 2017 @ 11:05am
              Nemesis said | August 18th 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

              “Jedniak is better when we player better teams & we park the bus”

              Under Ange, when has Australia ever “parked the bus”. I’ve got all the matches on PVR, so I’ll have a look.

              You dislike Troisi because he plays for MV and you were oblivious to his quality. Troisi played an excellent match against Chile. By far the best creative midfield performance I’ve seen in the National Team against high quality opposition since Bresciano.

              • Roar Guru

                August 18th 2017 @ 11:21am
                Kaks said | August 18th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

                Troisi is a good player, but he wont win you matches. Rogic has that ability with his left peg alone.

              • August 18th 2017 @ 11:39am
                punter said | August 18th 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

                Nemesis, I think I said ‘Jedniak is better when we player better teams & we park the bus (like he did at Crystal Palace), but this is not Ange’s style’

                As far as national teams go, I don’t dislike anyone from a club side, sorry mate, if Sainsbury signed for MV, I would still rate him be far the best defender we have & love him. I think Milligan should be one of first picked for Socceroos & he plays for MV.

                As for Troisi, again I said against Chile he played great, tell me one other time he has been as great in a Socceroo shirt. I rate Troisi as an A-League player, one of finest, even though he plays for a loser of a team, but stepping up a level, na, not seen it, apart from 1 game against Chile.

                I’m happy to be proved wrong, but for the Socceroos he is a squad player.

              • August 18th 2017 @ 12:08pm
                Nemesis said | August 18th 2017 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

                Huge fan of Rogic.
                Huge fan of Mooy.

                Rogic was good in patches against Germany.
                Mooy was terrible at the Confeds Cup.

                Before the Chile match, we didn’t know if Troisi could step up against some of the world’s best midfielders.

                He did.
                He scored a delightful goal from having the tactical awareness to make space in the box & technical ability to finish when I’ve seen many others miss.

                He was voted MOTM.

                There’s not much more a midfielder can do.

          • Roar Guru

            August 18th 2017 @ 10:55am
            Kaks said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

            Rogic and Mooy cant play together, a bit like Lampard and Gerrard in the England Golden Era.

            I would personally start with Rogic as the 10, with Irvine and Luongo in behind. Mooy has been very poor when playing for Australia.

          • August 18th 2017 @ 11:43am
            punter said | August 18th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

            Fad, no doubt about Scottish league being at best equal to A-League, but Rogic plays for Celtic, this is way above any team in the A-League though.

          • August 18th 2017 @ 3:06pm
            James Jackson said | August 18th 2017 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

            Against Saudi Arabia they had some good combinations, and Mooy assisted Rogic’s goal too. I think their understanding will grow, and it will especially be better when Mooy is playing behind Rogic, not beside him.

      • August 18th 2017 @ 9:18am
        Caltex TEN & SBS support Australian Football said | August 18th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

        “Irvine and Luongo surely deserve to keep their spots after the Chile game?”

        Agree Fad.

    • August 18th 2017 @ 10:17am
      Lionheart said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

      Last time I saw Japan play they were shaped very defensively with 5 across the back at times. It was quite unbelievable for Japan, and some of their older players like Honda were apparently not so impressed. But they’re always good games when we play Samurai Blue.

    • August 18th 2017 @ 11:05am
      The Fatman said | August 18th 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

      for a man with a ‘destroyed brain’ he did some good solo albums

    • August 18th 2017 @ 12:46pm
      Nemesis said | August 18th 2017 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

      Off topic

      Breaking News

      FIFA has named the 10 Women Footballers nomiated for the 2017 Best Player in the World. You can see one of these players in WLeague during summer playing for Perth Glory.

      * Lucy Bronze
      * Deyna Castellanos
      * Pernille Harder
      * Sam Kerr
      * Carli Lloyd
      * Dzsenifer Marozsan
      * Lieke Martens
      * Vivianne Miedema
      * Wendie Renard
      * Jodie Taylor

      • August 18th 2017 @ 3:47pm
        Midfielder said | August 18th 2017 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

        Great stuff go Sam

    • August 18th 2017 @ 2:25pm
      The Auteur said | August 18th 2017 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

      That midfield’s going to get overrun fast without any holders.

    • August 18th 2017 @ 3:55pm
      Midfielder said | August 18th 2017 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

      Am I wrong or did Ange not change our system to 3 – 2 – 4 – 1 … with the two wide in the four to drop back..

      In this system the two DM’s become important and its a toss up but its where your would play Mooy with either Mass or Irvine alongside him…

      This would allow for Rogic and Troisi to play up front…

      This is my formation..

      ———————– Ryan —————————
      ——- Milligan —- Sainsbury —- Spira ——–
      ————– Mooy ———- Luongo / Irvine ————–
      Leckie———— Troisi ——– Rogic ——– Gersback—–
      ————————- Juric —————————

      • August 18th 2017 @ 4:52pm
        Nemesis said | August 18th 2017 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

        Good question, Middy. Just had a look at the Starting XI vs Chile. I’m struggling to work out the formation. Where was Cahill playing? In the gap between Troisi & Juric?

        Was Irvine playing alongside Luogo as a DM? Or higher?

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