Japan's Kubo Takefusa sees 'bright side' after defeat to Argentina

Japan team for Tokyo Olympics in 2021 fall 1-0 in first of back-to-back home friendlies vs Argentina. But Moriyasu Hajime's men take away lessons with eyes on first Games medal since Mexico 1968.

By Shintaro Kano
Picture by MASASHI HARA

Four months away from the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, Kubo Takefusa and the rest of the Japan U-24 football team lost the first of their back-to-back friendlies against Argentina in Tokyo.

But the 19-year-old thinks they can take away valuable lessons from this defeat.

“We lost 1-0 at home so we can’t be happy about that”, Kubo said on Friday (26 March) following defeat to Argentina at the Tokyo Stadium, an Olympic venue for football, rugby sevens and modern pentathlon this summer.

“But on the bright side, we kept it close. They had their moments as we had ours.

“The difference was they took their chances but we didn’t. And that’s what separates heaven from hell in this game.

“We weren’t able to finish today which says a lot about where we are at this point in time.

“Our performance was nothing to get down about but it’s the result. If we play the way we did today and score goals, then we can go places.

“The work is cut out for us”.

Japan striker Kubo Takefusa, of Getafe, against Argentina in an Under-24 friendly in Tokyo on Saturday.
Picture by MASASHI HARA

Making up for lost time

Friday’s match was the first for Japan’s under-24 national side since January 2020 in more serene times around the world.

Then, they had a disastrous campaign at the Asian Under-23 Championship, crashing out of the group phase without a single win.

Friday was also the first time since November 2019 that Kubo and the overseas-based internationals played on Japanese soil.

Argentina - who walked away with victory thanks to a first-half nod by the towering Adolfo Gaich - proved to be an excellent test for Moriyasu Hajime’s men.

Despite only arriving three days earlier with a bulk of the squad playing for their clubs over the weekend, the Argentinians kept the hosts under constant pressure, allowing them little time on the ball.

Acting coach Yokouchi Akinobu, filling in for Moryiasu who is currently with the senior side, said you couldn’t buy this kind of experience in Japan usually.

“What Argentina brought, you don’t normally get to see in Japan”, Yokouchi said of Fernando Batista’s troops, who qualified first out of CONMEBOL for Tokyo 2020.

“Each and every one of their players understands the game very well. Very strong, very clever”.

Rising sons

What Argentina revealed was that in the 16 months since Japan were last together, the players have come a long way individually.

The visitors were the more physically robust of the two, but Japan did not take a backseat technically or in terms of pace.

Much was made of Kubo’s pairing with dribbling pheom Mitoma Kaoru, the J-League’s 2020 rookie of the year for champions Kawasaki Frontale.

Mitoma Kaoru, the talk of the town in the J-League, was silenced by Argentina in his much-hyped partnership with Kubo.
Picture by MASASHI HARA

While that combination fell flat with Mitoma having a quiet game, Japan, as a team, did not look bad one bit against a country being tipped as a gold-medal favourite.

Japan have another shot at Argentina on Monday and after that, two friendlies each in June and July to get it right before the Games open on 23 July.

Kubo and the young Blue Samurai seem to know what exactly it is that they have to do to reach the Olympic podium in men’s football for the first time since Mexico 1968.

“You have to be able to win the close ones like today”, said Kubo, who plugged in a full shift Saturday.

“The only thing that people remembers are the results. Forget performance, we need to be able to win games.

“I really can’t say anything on the Tokyo Games with so much uncertainty in the world right now.

“What I do know is that we let one get away today so we must make sure to win the second game”.