Japan’s World Cup exploits have made headlines in baseball-crazy Japan and coach Hajime Moriyasu is looking to strike out Croatia when they meet in the last 16.
The Blue Samurai booked their place in the knock-out round with a stunning win over Spain on Thursday, topping Group E after also upsetting Germany in their opening game.
Moriyasu has been praised for his game-changing substitutions as Japan came from behind to beat both European heavyweights with second-half fightbacks.
Croatia will offer a difficult test in Monday’s last 16 match-up but Moriyasu is hoping his players can hit another home run.
“The players don’t think of themselves as starting players or substitutes and neither do I,” he said on Friday.
“Of course there is competition for places and we have to have some kind of hierarchy, but in general they’re all regular players.
“I don’t know if it’s quite the same but it’s like in baseball — among pitchers you have starters, relievers and closers.”
Moriyasu brought on Ritsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma at half-time against Spain as Japan looked to hit back on the counter-attack after conceding a first-half goal.
The changes had an immediate effect, with Doan scoring an equaliser and Mitoma setting up the winner for Ao Tanaka minutes later.
Moriyasu said he does not expect much to change against Croatia but hopes his team can enjoy more than the 15 percent possession they had against Spain.
“The concept that we have as a team is to defend well and from there attack — that’s how we got here and that hasn’t changed during these three games at the World Cup,” he said.
“Our opponents will be strong and we’ll have to see how much of the ball we get. We would like to have more of it but it depends on our opponents.”