Japan faced a shock group-stage elimination at the AFC U23 Championships yesterday after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Syria left them with zero points after two games in Group B.
The Samurai Blues have of course already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as hosts, significantly lowering the stakes for this tournament. Hajime Moriyasu also selected a significantly weakened side, leaving out the likes of Real Madrid’s Takefusa Kubo and Barcelona’s Hiroki Abe among other highly rated youth internationals.
Regardless, a Group Stage elimination is still probably below expectations for Japan, who hoped that the tournament in Thailand could serve as preparation and blood in new stars to deepen the squad for the Olympic Games.
Japan were off to a bad start against Saudi Arabia when Ryotaro Meshino’s equalizer was canceled out by a dubious penalty call in the dying minutes which handed the West Asian side the victory.
The Olympic hosts were left trailing again in their second match when Abd Al Rahman Barakat netted for Syria from the penalty spot after just nine minutes. And for the second time at the Thammasat Stadium, a Japanese equalizer, this time from Yuki Soma, was canceled out by a defensive lapse in the 88th minute which allowed Aldin Dali to strike the killer blow.
Hajime Moriyasu’s men could still bow out with a win against Qatar on Wednesday and will need to pick themselves up quickly after this disappointment if they wish to make a big impression on home soil in the summer.