Goa: Japan coach Yoshiro Moriyama lavished praise on semi-final opponents Iraq calling them “one of the best teams of this generation” ahead of Thursday’s AFC U-16 Championship India 2016 last eight clash at GMC Stadium.
While Japan edged the United Arab Emirates 1-0 in their quarter-final on Sunday thanks to defender Ayumu Seko’s first-half goal, Iraq cruised past Uzbekistan in their knockout stage match-up, with Mohammed Dawood scoring twice in a 2-0 scoreline that did not truly reflect the West Asians’ dominance.
And despite two-time winners Japan scoring 22 goals in four games and conceding none en route to the semi-finals, seeing off Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan, Australia and the UAE with a 100% record, Moriyama believes the final four clash could be his side’s biggest test yet.
“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,” said Moriyama.
“I saw their quarter-final 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.”
Group B winners Japan are appearing in the semi-finals for the first time since 2012 having previously won the AFC U-16 Championship in 1994 and 2006.
“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,” added Moriyama.
“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.”
Prior to their quarter-final victory over Uzbekistan, Iraq had secured a victory over Korea Republic before successive draws with Malaysia and Oman that saw them finish as runners-up in Group C.
Motivated by their failure to qualify for the AFC youth tournament two years ago, coach Qahtan Chitheer believes the last three years of work with the side will continue to bear fruit in India, even against an opponent as daunting as Japan.
“Japan is a good team with exceptional players and it’s obvious they play a high level of football,” said Chitheer.
“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.”