Asia AFC Asian Cup

Brighton Manager Roberto De Zerbi Surprised by Kaoru Mitoma’s Asian Cup Call-Up

Brighton & Hove Albion manager Roberto De Zerbi has expressed his surprise over Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu’s decision to include injured winger Kaoru Mitoma in his squad for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

Mitoma, who was influential in Brighton’s recent rise, had been injured in the Seagulls’ 1-1 draw with arch-rivals Crystal Palace in December 21st’s Premier League match.

The ankle injury has left Mitoma in the sidelines for up to six weeks, which included the duration of the Asian Cup, however, Moriyasu decided to include the 26-year old in his final squad for the tournament anyway.

“I’m really surprised because my medical staff told me Mitoma needs four, six weeks for his injury,” said De Zerbi, as quoted from BBC Sport, “For me, it’s difficult to think he can play in the Asian Cup. But I am a fan of Mitoma, of all my players, so if they can play for their national team I am very happy and very proud.”

Speaking to the Japan Times, Moriyasu said that his decision to include Mitoma was in response to Japan’s “frustrations” of failing to win the last edition of the Asian Cup at the final hurdle back in 2019. However, the former Sanfrecce Hiroshima boss insisted that he won’t force Mitoma to start Japan’s matches right away and to focus on his recovery first.

“Given his current injury situation, I don’t know if he will be ready to play in the first game or not,” said Moriyasu, “But I have been told by the national team medical staff and his club medical staff that I will be able to use him early in the tournament when he comes back from injury.”

Moriyasu expressed that his core strategy remains unchanged in the last five years, emphasizing a game-by-game approach and thorough preparation. However, he emphasized a newfound determination to secure victory this time, citing the frustration stemming from their previous loss.

Other than Mitoma, Moriyasu also called upon the talents of Premier League duo Wataru Endo (Liverpool) and Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal) for his Asian Cup squad, as well as Real Sociedad star Takefusa Kubo and Glasgow Celtic duo Daizen Maeda and Reo Hatate.

Notable omissions include Celtic danger man Kyogo Furuhashi, Lazio’s Daichi Kamada, and Fortuna Dusseldorf star Ao Tanaka.

From the 26 players that Moriyasu called up for Japan’s Asian Cup quest, 14 of them represented the Samurai Blue in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where they were eliminated in the round of 16 but not without claiming the scalps of Spain and Germany.

“If you look at the overall level of Japanese football, there are more players playing at a high level,” said Moriyasu, “There is fierce competition for places and that means there is a high level of candidates for the national team.”

Japan were drawn to Group D of this year’s Asian Cup, where they will face-off against Iraq and ASEAN duo Vietnam and Indonesia.