One final down, one to go for Yoshida

Al Ain: Japan captain Maya Yoshida prepared for Monday’s AFC Asian Cup semifinal against Islamic Republic of Iran like a de facto final, and is now focused on producing a similar performance in the real decider, to be held in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Two goals to Yuya Osako, and a third from Genki Haraguchi, powered the four-time champions to an emphatic 3-0 win over a previously unbeaten Team Melli, securing Japan’s passage to a meeting with either Qatar or United Arab Emirates in the Continental finale.
Yoshida, an English Premier League star with Southampton, revealed the importance of the result, and his delight at having helped his side achieve it.
“It was a semi-final, but I felt like it was going to be more like a final,” he said. “We had to prepare very well, mentally and physically.”
“I think we showed a great performance, kept another clean sheet, scored three goals, but one more to go, so we have to show even more desire and passion to be ready for the final.”
“I thought it was going to be more tough, but Osako was back and everyone played very well and sacrificed for the team, and kept pressuring every time.
“The goals are important but also the defensive side played very well and that’s why we kept a clean sheet. 3-0 is fantastic I think.”
Having scored 12 goals and conceded none in five unbeaten AFC Asian Cup matches, Iran were red-hot coming into the match, but Yoshida revealed head coach Hajime Moriyasu’s game plan had worked to perfection for the Samurai Blue. “(Iran are) defensively organised, counter attack, (and focused) especially on number 20 (Sardar Azmoun) who is their key player as a target, so don’t let him play in deep areas,” he said.
“We played well, we won the first ball every time, then the second ball, then reorganised the game and we dominated. (To score) three goals is fantastic.” While the relatively untested nature of this Japan side has been well documented, Yoshida himself is rich in experience, having racked up 94 caps in an international career entering its tenth year.
He also has the experience of winning the AFC Asian Cup as a 22-year-old in 2011, and, with several senior players departing under Moriaysu, has embraced the role of team leader having replaced Makoto Hasebe as national team captain.
“It’s a new role for me, and I’m really enjoying my role,” he declared. “It’s going be tough because Hasebe had a long time taking the responsibility, but I’m really enjoying my time as a captain and I hope I can lead the team higher.
“I try to let (the younger players) play more comfortably, and with confidence, but also I want them to feel they are taking responsibility for representing the national team.
“These are important things for new players. I want them to enjoy the final.”
It may yet come to pass that Yoshida’s second AFC Asian Cup final will feature the same man in the dugout as his first, albeit on the opposing side.
Alberto Zaccheroni is in charge of the UAE team having led Japan to the title against Australia in Qatar eight years ago, and Yoshida hopes to see a familiar face at Zayed Sports City Stadium.
“I have great memories with him, so it would be good to see him again in the final.”