Deflated Japan skipper Maya Yoshida has stated his questionable late handball, punished by the video-assistant referee, in defeat during the Asian Cup final had reopened old wounds from Southampton’s painful League Cup reversal to Manchester United.
Forward Akram Afif effortlessly converted from 12 yards in the 83rd minute to make it 3-1 to Qatar after the Saints centre-back was, belatedly, adjudged to have illegally stopped 2018 AFC Player of the Year Abdelkarim Hassan’s header at Zayed Sports City. Intent was hard to judge as Yoshida’s outstretched arm made contact when he was looking the other way, but the punishment killed any hope of a comeback by the record four-time champions from 2-0 down.
On club duty back in February 2017 for the League Cup final, Italy striker Manolo Gabbiadini was incorrectly adjudged to be offside when scores were goalless in an eventual 3-2 loss against the Red Devils. There was no VAR that day, providing a different sort of pain for Yoshida.
“Probably one of them,” the 30-year-old replied when asked whether the weekend loss was one of the most disappointing of his career. “Because losing in a cup final or tournament final is really difficult to accept.
“Even when we had Manchester United before in the League Cup final, big defeat. Also, Manolo Gabbiadini scored and it was given offside.
“No VAR. But this is part of football.”
Outstanding strikes from nine-goal record scorer Almoez Ali and Abdulaziz Hatem had put Qatar 2-0 up by 27 minutes, prior to Takumi Minamino’s intricately constructed 69th-minute effort.
From the moment that referee Ravshan Irmatov referred to the outside officials after Yoshida’s block, however, hopes of extra time dissipated.
“It’s the toughest ways to lose in the final,” said Yoshida, marking his 96th international cap in agonising fashion. “First of all, congratulations to Qatar.
“They had the aggression, even though they have only two days in between. We were too passive in the first half and when you concede two goals in the first half, it’s going to be really difficult to come back from that.
“We tried to, but still time wasn’t enough. Especially the third goal, me individually it’s really tough to except, it’s really unlucky to have the handball – but this is the result.”
Yoshida is one of few veterans to have survived the cull that followed the World Cup run to the round of 16, where Samurai Blue alarmed red-hot favourites Belgium.
New head coach Hajime Moriyasu selected an experimental squad for the UAE, that was nevertheless still expected to claim a fifth trophy since 1992.
Amid the pain of defeat, Yoshida hoped the experience had been a formative one for his nation’s fresh hopes.
He said: “Hugely disappointed, today. Me individually and as a team, for all the Japanese people.
“We have to learn from this defeat. We have the Copa America and after the summer we start to have the qualification for the World Cup.
“So we have to learn from this defeat and we try to use this experience for the next Copa America and the World Cup qualification.”
Yoshida will be expected to offer experience alongside emerging Sint-Truiden centre-back Takehiro Tomiyasu, 20, in the challenges to come. He could also be selected as one of three overage players for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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