Saudi Arabia are intent on revenge today when they face Japan for a place in the semifinals of the Asian Games. The two sides met in the final of the Under-19 Asian Championships in October 2016 and many of those same 22 players will be on the
field again this afternoon at the Pakan Sari Stadium in West Java.
At the Asian Championships in Bahrain, Japan beat the Young Falcons 5-3 on penalties after the match finished 0-0. Now, two years on, and with both countries using this month’s U23 competition as a chance to give vital experience to their U21 sides ahead of the qualification tournament for Tokyo 2020, they are preparing to meet again.
Ayman Al-Khulaif, the tricky wideman on the books at Al-Ahli, played 106 minutes of the final in East Riffa and is certain to start today in Indonesia after a series of eye-catching performances over the past two weeks. He has not forgotten the pain of that 2016 defeat. “They won the last time,” he told Arab News. “This time is our turn. We want to make up for that defeat and are all looking forward to seeing some familiar faces. We want revenge.”
Saudi Arabia coach Saad Al-Shehri will need to shuffle his defense after right-back Abdullah Tarmin, who had played every game so far, collected a yellow card in the 4-3 win over China, ruling him out of today’s match. Second-choice striker Mutib Al-Banaqi is also missing through suspension, but Haroune Camara is sure to keep his place in attack after scoring a hat-trick in the shock win over China.
“We think only about the next game,” said Camara, who trained with the senior national team ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Russia. “It was important to reach the quarterfinals here and now it is important to qualify for the semifinals here. Of course, the next game will be more difficult again, so we must be ready, but we believe that some of this squad will be fighting to be at the World Cup in 2022, so for that reason we are all giving as much as we can in every match.”
Japan lost to Vietnam in their group and then required an 89th minute penalty to see off Malaysia 1-0 in the round of 16. However, Al-Shehri, who coached the Young Falcons in the 2016 Asian Championships and again at the U20 World Cup a year later, is not underestimating his opponents.
“We are always prepared to play anyone and against any tactics, be it high-press, man-to-man marking, zonal defense, whatever,” Al-Shehri said. “We know Japan are a strong team. They like to play between the lines and their intelligent movement can cause problems if we do not keep things tight in defense. We must not leave space like we did in the second half against China because Japan will punish you.
“We’ll try to close them down across the pitch and attack as a unit, like we normally do. Of course, Tarmin is suspended, but I have other options at right-back.”
Both Japan and Saudi Arabia have selected players born after Jan. 1, 1997, despite being eligible to call upon players born after Jan. 1, 1995.
While Japan are accustomed to such a set-up, having won the 2010 Games with their U21 team, the Young Falcons are competing with an eye on the future for the first time — a forward-looking approach that pleases Al-Shehri.
“Whether we win or not, our main goal remains to qualify for the Olympics in 2020,” he said. “I could have brought older players here. We have many good players born in 1995 and 1996 who we could have brought in and won the Asian Games easily — they are very
good. But this is the first time our federation has allowed us to look further ahead.
“It’s the first time we’ve come to an Asian Games with such a young team. This is what Japan always do and Japan always go to the Olympics, so this is why I decided to bring my players from 1997 and 1998.
“We will continue their development, take it game by game and improve, and if we get the chance, we will fight to get the gold medal,” he said.