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BOTHROYD: Japan have shown resilience so far, but now must attack Croatia with World Cup quarterfinal in sight

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Japan play their best football when they’re underdogs. Some people will see it like that again against the 2018 World Cup finalists, but I don’t think they’ve anything to be fearful of against Croatia.

No one ever thought they would beat Germany and Spain. Anyone who put money on that will be a very rich man today! In the western part of the world, people are not looking at Japan as light work anymore. Everyone is messaging me and calling me saying everything I said about these great players is correct.

I want to see Japan go into this game against Croatia and play the way they did against Germany, and play the way they did against Spain in the second half throughout the whole 90 minutes. I don’t want to see them being timid and trying to work things out as they go. 

Again, it feels like the key man is Kaoru Mitoma. He has to play. I don’t know why he hasn’t started a game yet in this competition. Every time he comes on he makes a difference. 

He got the assist against Spain, but then what he did defensively was amazing as well. He was playing against Marco Asensio, who is one of Spain’s best players, and he kept him fairly quiet, apart from one shot from 25 yards.

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I know I say this all the time but I want to see an attacking frontline. I want to see Daichi Kamada, I want to see Mitoma, Junya Ito on the right and Takuma Asano up front.

I’d go after Croatia like that, because they’re a very good team technically but they’re also an ageing team. When you’re playing games every three or four days it takes a toll on your body. 

Japan can take advantage of that with the pace and sharpness that they have, even though how they recover after having just 17.7% possession against Spain is massive. These players are super fit and if Hajime Moriyasu tells them to run through a brick wall, that’s what they’re going to do.

You hear about all sorts of fallouts in dressing rooms at this stage of a World Cup. Belgium are the team everyone has talked about this time. That’s because of egos. Certain players think ‘I should be playing’, as much as they’re happy to be at the tournament.

In the Japan team they won’t be thinking in this way, and Ritsu Doan is the symbol of that. Twice he’s come off the bench and scored two massive goals.

I don’t think for one minute he’ll have been in his hotel room sulking. He’s the unsung hero. He’s not the big name you would talk about when you discuss the Japan team but he’s been fantastic. It seems like he’s the gel — When Japan do really well, he’s on the pitch.

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Japan showed brilliant resilience in the Spain game — real progress from the collapse against Belgium in Russia four years ago. Sometimes you do need to set up and defend in a certain way and that helped Japan get that result. 

Before the game, in the warm-up, Moriyasu put them into full team shape and they were doing drills, moving across the pitch as and when the ball would go across. That was exactly what they were doing for the last 15 minutes of the game — being compact, defending the area and then counter-attacking.

But I know how good those footballers are. Japan have the ability in their dressing room to go out and dominate Croatia, and I want to see them do that.


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