Nay Pyi Taw: Teamwork is the key to victory insists Japan coach Masakazu Suzuki ahead of their AFC U-19 quarter-final showdown with three-time champions DPR Korea at Wunna Theikdi Stadium on Friday.
Japan, who are hoping to avoid a fourth consecutive quarter-final elimination at this tournament, topped Group C in impressive fashion after bouncing back from an opening defeat against China to pick up consecutive wins over Vietnam and defending champions Korea Republic.
And despite star forward Takumi Minamino being the outstanding player for Japan thus far, Suzuki is adamant that should his side secure a place in the semi-final it will take every player on the field, not just the Cerezo Osaka star.
“This team has been playing together for over a year and a half now, and it is their chemistry and togetherness that has got them here, even throughout tough times,” said Suzuki, under whom Minamino scored three goals in three games in the tournament’s group stages.
“Even though Minamino is important, we try not to rely on him too much and we try to score from every position, not just him, the other strikers and attacking midfielders can make goals too.
“That was the key to winning this group; they did not give up as a team and kept playing together until the last whistle. This will be the key to winning against DPR Korea and that will be the key to ending our bad run of results at this competition.”
As well as a place in the semi-finals, Japan seek a return to the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the first time since 2007 when they reached the Round of 16. And the ticket for the tournament next year in New Zealand earned by the final four teams is certainly something on Suzuki’s mind.
“It’s one of the goals of me and my players to qualify for the World Cup, I want the players to experience the opportunity to play in that tournament as well,” he added.
DPR Korea are appearing in their third AFC U-19 Championship quarter-final in the last four editions of the tournament having finished second in Group D behind Qatar, while victory on Sunday would secure a return to the semi-finals for the first time since 2010, a tournament they went on to win.
“We came through a very difficult group and now we have another very tough opponent in Japan in what is a must-win game for us,” said DPR Korea coach An Ye-gun.
“Japan have many good individually skilled players, like Minamino who has obviously got a lot of ability, but despite his talent he cannot operate well without his team, so we will focus on shutting them down as a team, not just focusing on individuals.
“We have to focus on being mentally and physically stronger than our opponents and impose our own game in the tie; that will be the key to success.”
DPR Korea go into the knockout stage as one of the team’s in the final eight with the worst goal difference from the group stages, alongside hosts Myanmar, but An is convinced the quarter-finals represent a clean slate for his side.
“The first two matches in the group stage were difficult games and we were not physically recovered from our travel from DPR Korea,” he said.
“The third game against Iraq, though, was a must-win and by that point the players were mentally and physically prepared and they got the result we needed.
“We will be fully ready for tomorrow’s game.”