Monday 30 March 2009

Nakamura strike puts Japan within touching distance



Japan have one hand on a place in next summer’s World Cup Finals in South Africa following a hard-fought 1-0 victory over bogey side Bahrain in their fourth round Asian qualifying match in Saitama on Saturday. After a goalless first half, the hosts finally took the lead two minutes after the restart, when Shunsuke Nakamura’s free kick deflected off the head of Bahrain defender Abdulla Marzooq and into the top corner of Sayed Jaffer’s net. The single strike proved to be enough to secure the win, and leaves Japan on top of Group A with eleven points from five games.

The meeting was these two countries’ fifth in a year and three days, and having gone down to a narrow defeat in Bahrain in Asian Cup qualifying this January, Japan coach Takeshi Okada was understandably delighted with his side’s first home victory in this stage of the current World Cup campaign. ‘It was a difficult game,’ said Okada, ‘but our players were determined to win, and they performed extremely well overall’. Bahrain manager Milan Macala was in no doubt about the significance of the outcome, claiming ‘this win basically means Japan will qualify’.

Okada stresses that his team are taking nothing for granted, but following a 4-0 win for Uzbekistan at home to Qatar, Japan will only need one win from their remaining three games to guarantee qualification whatever happens in the two Group A matches played this Wednesday in their absence. In Group B, Saudi Arabia kept their hopes alive by coming from a goal down to win 2-1 in Iran, while North Korea edged closer to their first Finals appearance since 1966 with a 2-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates.

Despite the absence of their national team stars, 12 of the 18 J1 clubs were in action this weekend in the group stage of the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. The latest new format is yet to inject real life into the competition, however, with just six goals being scored in Sunday’s six games. Highlights included a 1-0 win for Urawa Reds away to Yokohama F Marinos, and a 1-1 draw in the second Chiba derby to be played this month.


World Cup qualifying results (Asia)
Group A
Japan 1-0 Bahrain
Uzbekistan 4-0 Qatar

Group B
North Korea 2-0 United Arab Emirates
Iran 1-2 Saudi Arabia

Yamazaki Nabisco Cup results (matchday 2)
Group A
Albirex Niigata 0-0 Jubilo Iwata
Oita Trinita 0-0 Omiya Ardija
Yokohama F Marinos 0-1 Urawa Reds

Group B
FC Tokyo 1-0 Vissel Kobe
JEF United Chiba 1-1 Kashiwa Reysol
Shimizu S-Pulse 2-0 Kyoto Sanga

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