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Japan Men’s Team Looking to End Soccer Medal Drought in Rio

Yanai Yumiko [Profile]


In January this year, Japan assured itself a spot at the Olympic soccer tournament in Rio by winning the AFC U-23 Championship in Doha, Qatar. This will be Japan’s sixth consecutive and tenth overall appearance at the Games. The Asian champions—which go by the nickname Teguramori Japan after U-23 head coach Teguramori Makoto—are looking to improve on their fourth-place showing in London and capture the nation’s first men’s soccer medal since taking bronze at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

A Focus on Defense

Since taking the reins in January 2014, Teguramori has focused on building a squad capable of competing at the Olympics. Along with 15 U-23 players, he has chosen Urawa Reds striker Kōroki Shinzō and defenders Shiotani Tsukasa of Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Fujiharu Hiroki of Gamba Osaka for the three overage slots allowed under FIFA rules. The lineup as a whole has a firm domestic base and features only one player from a European team: forward Minamino Takumi of Austrian side FC Red Bull Salzburg.

Coach Teguramori has keenly analyzed the competition in Rio in selecting his 18-member Olympic squad, which consists of two goalkeepers, six defenders, seven midfielders, and three forwards. Prior to their AFC triumph, Japan’s U-23s had struggled in competition, such as the 2014 Asian Games, where they bowed out in the quarterfinals. Teguramori has now switched his emphasis to defense by choosing four defending midfielders, explaining his decision by noting that his side “is not a team that wins by out-and-out dominating opponents offensively.” Japan’s tenacity certainly played a large part in its success in Doha, but heading into the Olympics it should expect more close-fought, stamina-draining encounters.

At the other end of the pitch, Teguramori has built his offense around Japan’s strength in producing small, speedy players, with not one forward or midfielder over 180 cm tall.

Full-Pitch Effort

Early on the team emphasized strength in the midfield in running 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 formations, but Teguramori generally opts for a 4-4-2 system. The squad does not focus on holding possession, and instead has stressed a total football approach with an emphasis on winning the ball then feeding it up field to forwards who make a direct challenge on goal or slip past the defensive line for a through ball.

Japan Olympic men’s soccer team manager Teguramori Makoto names his squad on July 1, 2016. (© Jiji)

This switch away from a possession-centered approach has roots in the 2014 Brazilian World Cup, which saw champions Germany dominate with a counterattacking style of soccer.

Teguramori points out that even before taking over the U-23 squad he had begun moving away from the possession soccer trend that followed Spain’s successful campaign at the 2010 South African World Cup. At a press conference in August 2014 he said that during his tenure as the under-21 coach he had “looked to the Brazilian World Cup as an opportunity to find a new standard. This led to the concept of a team based around a total football approach.”

  • [2016.08.03]

Sports writer. Born in 1966 in Hokkaido. After graduating from Hokkaido University she began to work at Sports Nippon Newspapers. She has written several books about the Japan Professional Football League (J. League).

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