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Where EAST meets the Northwest

Japanís Kaoru Mitoma (top, #9) passes the ball to earn the assist on Ao Tanakaís game-winning goal during a World Cup Group E soccer match between Japan and Spain at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on December 1, 2022. With the goal, Japan advanced to the Round of 16, beating Spain 2-1. The "Agony of Doha" from 29 years ago, when then-player, now-coach Hajime Moriyasu experienced losing a match in the waning minutes of a critical game first-hand as a midfielder on Japanís national soccer team, was avoided by his team in 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

From The Asian Reporter, V32, #12 (December 5, 2022), pages 13 & 14.

World Cup redemption for Japan coach 29 years later in Qatar

By Graham Dunbar

The Associated Press

AL RAYYAN, Qatar ó The "Agony of Doha" came 29 years ago, and Hajime Moriyasu experienced it first hand as a midfielder on Japanís national soccer team.

Heís now the coach, and heís made amends.

Japan won its World Cup group December 1st after beating 2010 champion Spain 2-1 at Khalifa International Stadium. In late November, the team defeated 2014 champion Germany by the same score at the same venue.

As time was winding down against Spain, Moriyasu was thinking about that game in Qatar against Iraq in 1993 that cost the team a spot in the next yearís tournament.

"About one minute before the end," Moriyasu said after the win over Spain, "I remembered the tragedy in Doha."

Leading 2-1 in the teamís final qualifier and knowing one goal for the opposition would spell the end, Japan conceded in stoppage time. Their World Cup hopes were dashed, and so was Moriyasuís chances of playing at the biggest soccer tournament in the world.

This time it was different. This time the defense held it together. This time the 54-year-old Moriyasu got his Hollywood ending by winning Group E.

"I could feel that the times have changed," Moriyasu said, praising his teamís aggressive defending. "They are playing a new kind of soccer, thatís how I felt."

Japanís resistance on the field was typified by 34-year-old captain Maya Yoshida. The veteran central defender reacted fastest when a loose ball in the 90th minute bounced in the goalmouth, up in front of a gaping empty net, after goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda blocked a shot by Jordi Alba.

Yoshida twisted his body to beat Marco Asensio to the ball and clear the danger. When Spain forward Dani Olmo took control seconds later, Gonda blocked his shot with a smothering dive.

On the offensive side, Japan scored in the 48th and 51st minutes. Against Germany, the goals came in the 75th and 83rd.

"In 10 minutes we were dismantled," Spain coach Luis Enrique said.

Up next is Croatia, a team that reached the final four years ago in Russia. Another victory would put Japan in the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.

"We," the coach said, "are gifting this win to the people of Japan."

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