Japan are out to inflict more misery on Ecuador and prolong their Copa America adventure amid criticism for their approach to the competition.
Hajime Moriyasu’s side are one of two invited Asian nations competing in the tournament, along with Qatar, and they remain in with a shot of reaching the quarter-finals.
After losing 4-0 to Chile in their opener, Japan bounced back with a well-earned 2-2 draw against Uruguay last time out and can still advance through as one of the two best third-place sides, or potentially in second with an eight-goal swing on Uruguay.
Moriyasu’s decision to use the competition as preparation for the Tokyo Olympics next year by naming a squad made up of under-23 players has not gone down well, however, with the head coaches of Venezuela and Paraguay questioning the Samurai Blue’s involvement.
But Moriyasu is only focused on reaching the knockouts and is pleased with Japan’s standing ahead of the final round-robin fixtures in Group B.
“We wanted to win [against Uruguay] and that showed in the way we played,” he said.
“We worked hard and went in for challenges. The Uruguay goals were unfortunate, but overall it was a great effort. If we win our next game, we’ll have a good chance to advance from the group.”
Japan are only the second non-CONMEBOL team with no wins in their first five Copa America games after Jamaica, but they have a good chance to get off the mark against an Ecuador side that have been reduced to 10 men in their first two matches.
A heavy loss to Uruguay and a narrow defeat at the hands of Chile leaves Hernan Dario Gomez’s men facing an early exit, as they require victory over Japan at the very least and for other results to go their way.
And after losing seven of their eight Copa America matches under Gomez across three different tournaments, the pressure is on the veteran coach to get things right in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ecuador – Enner Valencia
Former West Ham and Everton striker Valencia has had a hand in seven of Ecuador’s last 12 goals in Copa America tournaments – including a successfully converted penalty against Chile earlier this week – and has scored 29 goals overall in his 50 senior caps.
Japan – Koji Miyoshi
Miyoshi scored a brace against Uruguay and is the only Japanese player to have found the net in the 2019 Copa America. He has also been involved in the most shots for his team so far, with four attempts and three chances created.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Ecuador and Japan will meet for the fourth time, but this will be their first competitive game, after Japan won two friendlies (in 1995 and 2006) and Ecuador won one (in 1996); all three games were played on Japanese soil.
– Ecuador have won none of their last four meetings with Asian nations (D1 L3); the last such game was a 0-0 draw against Oman in October 2018.
– Japan (25) have attempted 16 shots more than Ecuador in the 2019 Copa America (9).
– Ecuador have won only two of their 18 Copa America games played since 2004 (D3 L13), with both wins coming against non-CONMEBOL nations: 2-1 v Mexico in 2015 and 4-0 v Haiti in 2016.
– Ecuador have seen a red card in their last three Copa America games: Antonio Valencia in 2016, Jose Quintero and Gabriel Achilier in 2019.