ABU Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb 2 – Japan captain Maya Yoshida promised the Blue Samurai would come back stronger after suffering a shock 3-1 defeat by Qatar in the Asian Cup final.
A moment of magic from Qatar striker Almoez Ali after just 12 minutes stunned Japan in Abu Dhabi on Friday, before a brilliant second from Abdelaziz Hatim and a controversial late penalty gave the 2022 World Cup hosts a historic first Asian title.
A distraught Yoshida blasted Japan’s naivety after the game but refused to make excuses.
“It’s difficult to describe how it feels,” he told AFP. “We were too passive, a bit naive and made so many mistakes. We conceded two goals at the beginning of the game which we shouldn’t have — we simply weren’t good enough.
“But they played well and deserve to be champions,” added Yoshida. “No excuses, we move on.”
Japan briefly threatened to get back into the game after Takumi Minamino pulled a goal back on 69 minutes, only for Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov to award Qatar a penalty after a video review for a handball by Yoshida.
Akram Afif’s cheekily dinked spot kick effectively ended Japan’s resistance.
“That third goal was really tough to accept,” said Yoshida after four-time winners Japan lost an Asian Cup final for the first time.
“It killed the game. If that’s a penalty I probably have to jump without using my arms. It was accidental — but that was the referee’s decision.
“It’s a huge disappointment but we have to learn from it,” admitted the Southampton defender, looking to this year’s Copa America, where both Japan and Qatar have been invited to take part.
– Scant consolation –
“We have to lift ourselves and take the right energy into the Copa America and the (2022) World Cup qualifiers.”
Japan peaked just in time for Friday’s final after beating tournament favourites Iran 3-0 with a clinical semi-final performance.
But Hajime Moriyasu’s new-look side lacked end product against Qatar, who had never previously gone beyond the last eight.
Minamino’s goal was the first Qatar had conceded after keeping a record six clean sheets, but it was scant consolation.
“It’s probably one of the hardest defeats of my career,” said Yoshida, who was wrong-footed by Ali for Qatar’s first goal as the Sudan-born striker produced an outrageous overhead volley to become the first player to score nine goals at a single Asian Cup.
“I got caught out for all three goals. But losing is part of football.”
Team-mate Yuto Nagatomo grudgingly paid tribute to Ali’s breathtaking opener.
“It was a super strike — but it’s a goal we could have prevented,” said the Galatasaray defender.
“We have to use this disappointment as a motivating force now.”
Meanwhile, Japan football chief Kozo Tashima congratulated Qatar.
“They won seven games, they are worthy champions,” he said. “Having another team — especially hosts of the 2022 World Cup — emerge like this is a positive for Asian football and can only help make Japan stronger too.”