FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019

FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019

23 May - 15 June

FIFA U-20 World Cup

Japan and the art of pressure, in five lessons

Mitsuki Saito of Japan is seen alongside Head Coach Masanaga Kageyama during a press conference 
© Getty Images
  • Japan outclass Mexico in Group B
  • El Tri stifled by intense Japanese pressure
  • Coach and captain explain how it works

Japan inflicted what can only be described as a footballing lesson on Mexico in the second round of Group B matches at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019 on Sunday. Not only were the Samurai Blue inspired and clinical in front of goal during their 3-0 win, but the pressure the entire team exerted on their opponents was incredible, with every pass nipped in the bud, every ball-carrier closed down.

FIFA.com spoke to Japan coach Masanaga Kageyama and captain Mitsuki Saito to find out the secrets of their success.

The art of repetition

"Closing players down is not something that is in the Japanese footballing DNA, and at times it has caused issues for our various different teams. Our culture is vastly different from what you find in Europe or South America, and we often struggle on the international stage because of this. For the past two years that I have been in charge of this team, I’ve been stressing this aspect day in, day out. And today they really stepped up in this respect." Masanaga Kageyama

"It’s true that the coach tells us, again and again, to press the opposition and go and get the ball back. That’s our strong point – collectively we are able to stifle the opposition." Mitsuki Saito

Mitsuki Saito of Japan during the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup
© Getty Images

The art of dictation

"My role is to dictate the pace in midfield and to talk to my team-mates to synchronise the pressure and form a bloc. Timing is very important in this respect. It’s something that I like doing, even if it takes it out of you physically." Mitsuki Saito

The art of education

"I didn’t need to teach them how to press or carry out any specific exercises. I just told them, 'Close them down, close them down!' They realised out on the pitch how to exert pressure effectively. It’s a real advantage when it comes to being competitive here. Everyone benefits from it, forwards and defenders alike." Masanaga Kageyama

Head coach Masanaga Kageyama of Japan 
© Getty Images

The art of sharing

"We talk about our style of play a lot and we have tried to take on a specific team spirit for all of the different Japan age groups, working on it together. Our strength is how we attack and defend as one, with a real collective mentality. Our weakness is actually when it comes to pressing, which is why I continue to stress the importance of it." Masanaga Kageyama

The art of metamorphosis

"Against Ecuador, the players really felt the difference physically. But things change. The average size and weight of Japanese people has gone up over the past ten years, and the players are getting a lot stronger physically. Things should continue to progress like this. A lot of Japanese now play in Europe and have adapted to a more physical style of play. That’s what we need to work towards." Masanaga Kageyama

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