A new-look Japan managed to further cement their credentials as favorites for the upcoming 2023 AFC Asian Cup after the Samurai Blue had obliterated Thailand 5-0 in their New Year’s Day friendly at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
With a number of their star players remaining in Europe to fulfil their winter commitments at their respective clubs, Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu decided to shake things up by introducing a number of fresh faces in their match against Thailand.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima star Takumu Kawamura made his national team debut, while Junya Ito deputizes for usual captain Wataru Endo, who started for Liverpool in their 4-2 win over Newcastle United in the Premier League a day after this very friendly.
Thailand’s new head coach Masatada Ishii decided to include J.League stars Supachok Sarachat (Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo) and Ekanit Panya (Urawa Red Diamonds) into his squad, while naturalized defender Nicholas Mickelson grabbed a starting place in left-back.
Surprisingly, despite the final scoreline, Thailand managed to defend stubbornly in the first half, denying Japan any scoring chances and keeping a clean sheet as the first 45 minutes ended in a goalless stalemate.
Japan took the lead in the 51st minute as a result of an offensive move initiated by second-half substitute Ritsu Doan, who advanced down the left side and delivered a pass to stand-in skipper Ito on the opposite end of the box. Although the captain’s shot was blocked by a defender, Ao Tanaka was there to capitalize and score past Thailand goalkeeper Patiwat Khammai.
In the 72nd minute, Keito Nakamura extended Japan’s lead to 2-0 by tapping in a rebound from Takumi Minamino’s shot, which was initially parried by True Bangkok United shot-stopper Khammai.
Thailand then went 3-0 down in the 74th minute after Bali United’s Elias Dolah deflected a Japan corner into his own net, before Kawamura added Japan’s fourth with a header in the 82nd minute.
Despite late attempts by Minamino, including a wide shot and a one-on-one saved by Khammai, he managed to slot in the final goal in the first minute of injury time.
The victory marked a historic moment for the Samurai Blue, securing their longest winning streak at nine consecutive games.
Reflecting on the win, Moriyasu emphasized the importance of player communication both on and off the pitch, discussing the strategies to bring out the best in each other.
Japan is set to kick off their fifth Asian Cup campaign against Group D opponents Vietnam on January 14, followed by matches against Iraq and Indonesia. Prior to the tournament, the Samurai Blue will play their final friendly game against Jordan on January 9 in Doha, Qatar.