Yoshida defiant after Asian Cup heartbreak

ABU DHABI (AFP) – Japan captain Maya Yoshida promised the Blue Samurai would come back stronger after suffering a shock 3-1 defeat by Qatar in the Asian Cup final.

A moment of magic from Qatar striker Almoez Ali after just 12 minutes stunned Japan in Abu Dhabi on Friday night, before a brilliant second from Abdelaziz Hatim and a controversial late penalty gave the 2022 World Cup hosts a historic first Asian title.

A distraught Yoshida blasted Japan’s naivety after the game but refused to make excuses.

“It’s difficult to describe how it feels,” he told AFP. “We were too passive, a bit naive and made so many mistakes. We conceded two goals at the beginning of the game which we shouldn’t have – we simply weren’t good enough.

“But they played well and deserve to be champions,” added Yoshida. “No excuses, we move on.”

Japan briefly threatened to get back into the game after Takumi Minamino pulled a goal back on 69 minutes, only for Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov to award Qatar a penalty after a video review for a handball by Yoshida.

Akram Afif’s cheekily dinked spot kick effectively ended Japan’s resistance.

“That third goal was really tough to accept,” said Yoshida after four-time winners Japan lost an Asian Cup final for the first time.

“It killed the game. If that’s a penalty I probably have to jump without using my arms. It was accidental – but that was the referee’s decision.

“It’s a huge disappointment but we have to learn from it,” admitted the Southampton defender, looking to this year’s Copa America, where both Japan and Qatar have been invited to take part.

“We have to lift ourselves and take the right energy into the Copa America and the (2022) World Cup qualifiers.”