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The Super-Sub king at Qatar 2022: Doan becomes a star for Japan

The term super-sub began to really surface in the 1960s when clubs started making more substitutions and the players coming off the bench became part of strategy more than a necessity in most cases.

It fits a player who can enter the pitch and change the outcome of the game with his quality, speed, and freshness and the strategy of the teams duly reflected this, with particularly wingers and strikers acting as excellent super-subs for their teams.

The term has been en vogue especially in the last decade, particularly in the last five years, when IFAB changed the rules of the game, enabling teams to make as many as five substitutions throughout a game.

This is exactly why Japan’s coach, Hajime Moriyasu, became one of the most respected managers at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with his changes at half-time duly delivering outstanding outcomes.

The Asian powerhouse progressed to the Round of 16 at Qatar 2022 with two outstanding wins, 2-1 against Germany and 2-1 against Spain, each time coming from behind against the European powerhouses, which, on paper, are more experienced, have more depth and bring better rosters to the table.

But Moriyasu had an ace upon his sleeve at Qatar 2022. While he got flak from Japanese media and fans for not making Ritsu Doan a starter, Moriyasu was vindicated in both matches, as Doan came from the bench in the second half and scored in each game, leading Japan to the win and helping his team progress to the next phase of the competition.

In the game against Spain, Doan was ushered into the pitch at the break and scored only two minutes after entering the pitch on the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha. Against Germany, a week earlier, Doan entered in the 71st minute and four minutes later he tied the game, opening the gates for a Japan comeback.

Doan is surely not an unknown quantity in Japan, having represented the national team at all the younger age category levels, starting from the Under-16 and making the team at the Under-23 level, where he also featured at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where Japan finished fourth, missing out on a medal by the skin of their teeth.

But since Moriyasu took over the side in 2018, he always relied on Doan, who made his debut in the same year and amassed 32 caps for the Asian side, scoring five goals. Four of those came in international tournaments, two each at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as Doan’s penchant for greatness was confirmed.

The 24-year-old Japanese winger is slowly beginning to make his name, as his career in Europe also took off in the past years. Doan first impressed for his childhood team, Gamba Osaka, being snatched by Dutch side Groningen in 2017, a small club in the Netherlands, but always with an eye on talent, being also the first European side to have trusted Uruguayan star Luis Suarez.

After scoring 15 goals in 63 league matches for Groningen, Doan made it to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven, but after two seasons there, he was loaned to Bundesliga club Arminia Bielefeld.

His excellent games for Bielefeld and especially his reliability earned plaudits, with Doan being dubbed the “Japanese Messi” for his skills, speed and creativity.

Before the FIFA World Cup, in the summer of 2022, Doan returned to the Bundesliga, in a €8 million transfer, as Freiburg, one of the top teams in Germany in the last seasons, identified his potential. With four goals in 22 matches in all competitions, Doan started well for Freiburg and his potential also brought him a place at Qatar 2022.

“Ritsu is technically gifted, can take on one-on-ones and knows how to pose a threat to goal. Ritsu showed at Bielefeld that he can play in the Bundesliga – we’ll also need that from him. It’s nice that it’s all worked out with a year’s delay,” said Klemens Hartenbach, Freiburg’s sporting director.

Indeed, the Japanese winger duly delivered at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, becoming a true hero for the Asian country. His playful spirit and passion on the pitch are nearly unmatched for the squad, while Doan has surely become a star in his country.

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