Tuesday 25 May 2010

All too easy for South Korea as Okada Japan suffer another setback

The Japanese national team’s preparations for the World Cup in South Africa next month endured another setback last night as their final warm-up match on home turf ended in a comprehensive 2-0 defeat to fierce rivals South Korea.

In front of a packed crowd in Saitama, the visitors needed just six minutes to open the scoring as captain Park Ji-Sung evaded the challenges of four opponents to burst through on goal and fire home from the edge of the 18-yard box. Despite a late Japanese rally, the Koreans sealed a deserved victory in the final minute when substitute Park Chu-Young converted from the spot after being felled by goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki.

Japan coach Takeshi Okada had suffered a blow before the game when central defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka injured his thigh in the warm-up, necessitating a late shuffle to the back four that saw Yuki Abe moved into the middle, Yuto Nagatomo switching flanks to play at right-back, and Yasuyuki Konno brought in to start on the left. Shinji Okazaki was given a lone role up front in the absence of Keiji Tamada, with Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow providing support alongside Shunsuke Nakamura and Yoshito Okubo in Okada’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

The gameplan quickly unravelled, however, with Park Ji-Sung’s early goal, as Huh Jung-Moo’s side looked far the more comfortable on the ball and were quick to press their hosts into mistakes whenever not. Japan’s only real chances came when Okubo fired a speculative shot wide of Jung Sung-Ryong’s left-hand post on 21 minutes, before substitute Takayuki Morimoto - one of the few Japanese players to emerge from the game with any credit - hit a low shot straight at the goalkeeper 15 minutes from time.

Okada apologised immediately afterwards for a second home defeat to South Korea in 2010 - following a 3-1 reverse in the East Asian Championship in February - but critics were quick to warn that being bullied off the ball so easily does not bode well for matches against three more physically imposing opponents in the World Cup group stage.

Japan now head to Austria and Switzerland for two further friendlies next week against England and the Ivory Coast.


In domestic news, FC Tokyo and Urawa Reds shook off the absence of their national team stars to move top of their respective Yamazaki Nabisco Cup groups with narrow wins over Albirex Niigata and Shonan Bellmare.

International friendly
Japan 0-2 South Korea

Yamazaki Nabisco Cup (group stage, matchday 3)
Group A
FC Tokyo 1-0 Albirex Niigata
Kyoto Sanga 2-1 Cerezo Osaka
Nagoya Grampus 1-3 Omiya Ardija

Group B
Shonan Bellmare 1-2 Urawa Reds
Shimizu S-Pulse 0-0 Yokohama F Marinos
Montedio Yamagata 1-0 Vissel Kobe

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