It will not exactly be a clash of titans when Japan take on North Korea in the final of the AFC Youth Championships at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan ground on Sunday evening. But with speed being both the teams’s forte, excitement should not be at a premium.
Japan are in the final for the sixth time, and although coach Yasushi Yoshida does not want to reflect on what happened in the past editions, he knows this is one of the best chances for a never-before crown. Japan did give away an easier opportunity in the past when they lost to Syria in the final in 1994. On other occasions it was Iran, Iraq and South Korea who had spoilt their party.
This time around, having shown great courage in their semifinal ouster of South Korea, arguably the best team in the tournament, Japan have a spring in their steps. “The atmosphere in the team is excellent,” playmaker Yosuke Kashiwagi said. “Only we can win the title.”
Coach Yoshida did not quite commit the way South Korean coach Cho Dong Hyun had done before the semifinal. “The match will be very tough. In my opinion it will be as tough as against South Korea,” Yoshida said.
Japan had defeated North Korea 2-0 in the opener and the players are brimming with confidence having already beaten their opponents twice in this tournament. The first was during the qualifiers in November 2005 when Japan won 1-0 in Kumamoto.
But Japan have a slight worry. Central defender Tomoaki Makino was sent off in the semifinal and is suspended. Reserve central defender Masaki Yanagawa has already gone home after their federation asked him to return to play in a crucial match for his club Vissel Kobe.