Japan, a 'lethal' opponent for Ecuador in Copa America clash
Enner Valencia (L) of Ecuador in action against Mauricio Isla (R) of Chile during the Copa America 2019 Group C soccer match between Ecuador and Chile at the Arena Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador, Brazil, June 21, 2019. EPA-EFE/RAUL SPINASSE
Enner Valencia (2-R) of Ecuador in action against Jean Beausejour (L) of Chile during the Copa America 2019 Group C soccer match between Ecuador and Chile at the Arena Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador, Brazil, June 21, 2019. EPA-EFE/JOEDSON ALVES
Enner Valencia (C) of Ecuador scores a penalty during the Copa America 2019 Group C soccer match between Ecuador and Chile at the Arena Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador, Brazil, June 21, 2019. EPA-EFE/RAUL SPINASSE
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Jun 24 (efe-epa).- Ecuador striker Enner Valencia, whose national side languishes at the bottom of Group C in the 2019 America in Brazil, has described Japan as a lethal opponent ahead of a tie with the Asian side on Monday, which the Japanese must win in order to make it into the next round.
"We saw Japan against Chile and Uruguay. It is a team which plays very well, enjoys having a lot of possession and plays out from the back," Valencia, Ecuador's top goal-scorer, said. "On the other hand they are also very fast – it is a lethal team."
"We have to play intelligently and with concentration, knowing their strengths and taking advantage of our own," he added.
The forward, who currently plies his trade with Mexican club Tigres UANL following stints with West Ham and Everton, said Ecuador had improved since its opening 0-4 loss to Uruguay. The team also went on to lose 1-2 to Chile.
"It is a shame that we ended up losing. We need to take away the good things and bring them into the next match," Valencia said.
"I am very sad (about the result) as we fought very hard against Chile. We came out wanting to win three points, but could not. Now we have to lift our head and go out to win against Japan," he added.
Resigned to the bottom of the table, all Ecuador can do now is put a dampener on Japan's Copa America campaign in Brazil.
Japan forward, Shinji Okazaki, was nonetheless confident of his team's chances of going through.
"We have to win to reach the next round," the Leicester City player said. "We will try to win the next match, I think we can do it but we have to win to make it happen," the 33-year-old told EFE after a training session in Belo Horizonte.
He gave his opinion on Japan's role as a guest country in the Copa America, joined this year by Qatar.
Both Rafael Dudamel and Eduardo Berizzo – the head coaches of Venezuela and Chile, respectively – have publicly expressed their wish that the Copa America be played exclusively by South American teams.
"We respect Copa America. Japan is giving its best,” he explained.
Japan's goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, however, told Efe that he would think it strange for a non-Asian team to participate in the AFC Asia Cup.
"It could be weird if another country joined the Asian Cup, for sure, but we just need to try to take this opportunity to play at 100 percent against South American teams," he said. "We just focus on what we do and try to get the best results."
The reason Qatar – who stunned soccer fans by winning the Asian Cup in February – and Japan – who were runners-up in that competition – are playing this year's edition of the Copa America is that the South American soccer federation, Conmebol, only has 10 members, making it difficult to organize a tournament with the traditional group and knockout stages.
The "Blue Samurai" are in the third place of the Group C standings with 1 point after having lost 4-0 to Chile and drawn 2-2 against Uruguay.
Group B's Paraguay could go through in Japan's stead if the Asian nation succumbs to an upset at the hands of Ecuador.
Ecuador and Japan are set to play each other at 8pm on Monday at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte in the third and last game of their group, in which Chile and Uruguay have already qualified to the knockout stage with 6 and 4 points respectively, while Japan lies third with 1 point and Ecuador are languishing at the last spot with two losses.EFE-EPA