Japan will have their sights set on the final of the AFC Under-16 Championship, but first they will have to get past Iraq.
Yoshiro Moriyama’s side reached the semis for the first time since 2012 after a narrow 1-0 win over the United Arab Emirates in the quarterfinals.
Japan have scored 22 goals in four games and conceded none en route to the last four, but Moriyama believes his side will be in for their toughest challenge yet when they go up against Iraq.
“This Iraq team were the champions of the AFC U-14 Championship two years ago. So they are definitely one of the best teams of this generation,” Moriyama said. “I saw their quarterfinal against Uzbekistan and thought that they are a really good team. Individually they are skilled, and also play well as a group.
“It will be a tough match, but I believe that the key point for the coming match will be how to stop their aggressive offence.”
Moriyama said that he is determined to see his side triumph in the tournament for the first time since 2006. Japan also won the AFC U-16 Championship back in 1994.
“Of course we want to win the tournament, and I believe that we have a chance. However, we want to think one game at a time, so all of our focus right now is to win the next game,” he said. “The first thing is to win the next game, and then we will think about the final. It would be great if we could achieve history [by becoming the first side to win the AFC U-16 Championship three times] which would mean a lot to Japanese youth development. But we want to win the trophy first, and then people can evaluate our success.”
Iraq, meanwhile, booked their spot in the semifinals following a comfortable 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals thanks to Mohammed Dawood’s brace.
But coach Qahtan Chitheer admitted that beating Japan will be tough given how dominant the east Asian side have been in the tournament so far.
“Japan is a good team with exceptional players and it’s obvious they play a high level of football,” he said. “But I believe we have a good chance in this game and we will look to implement an effective strategy and tactics to combat them.
“We will also look back at all the faults we as a team may have shown so far in this tournament and will look for solutions to our own problems. We are very proud to represent Arab football, as we are the last remaining Arab country in this competition, so we will try very hard to reach the final.”