Monday 31 May 2010

Late own goals deny resurgent Japan against sluggish England



Marcus Tulio Tanaka scored for both sides as a greatly improved Japan slipped to an unfortunate 2-1 defeat in their latest World Cup warm-up match against Fabio Capello’s England in Austria yesterday afternoon.

Six days after being booed off the pitch in Saitama after losing their final home friendly against rivals South Korea, Takeshi Okada’s side stunned their more celebrated opponents by racing into an early lead when Tanaka met Yasuhito Endo’s corner with a low shot after just six minutes. Japan continued to hold their own for much of the game - surviving a scare when Eiji Kawashima stopped Frank Lampard’s weakly-hit penalty - and looked set to hang on for a famous victory until being denied in the cruellest of manners by two own goals in the final 18 minutes.

Tanaka first headed a cross from England substitute Joe Cole past the helpless Kawashima, before defensive partner Yuji Nakazawa inadvertently deflected a ball from Ashley Cole into his own net with just seven minutes remaining.

The vast upturn in Japan’s performance was the result of a much-hyped tactical switch, aided by the return of Tanaka and - perversely - the absence of star midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura with an ankle problem. With this being the only change in personnel from the 2-0 setback last Monday, Okada was able to move Yuki Abe forward into a purely defensive midfield remit, providing Endo and Makoto Hasebe with the freedom to link more efficiently with the three remaining attacking players.

The suggestion that Okada might change from his usual 4-2-3-1 formation to what was effectively a 4-1-2-2-1 system had been derided as ‘overly negative’ by sections of the domestic press, but having struggled to hold onto the ball against South Korea’s heavy pressing, Japan were now suddenly able to keep an admittedly below-par England side at bay with relative ease. Their lead might even have been increased when Keisuke Honda and substitute Takayuki Morimoto were both denied by fine saves from Joe Hart, before Capello’s half-time changes helped swing the tide England’s way as the second period progressed.

Okada was bullish after the match, insisting that his side would need to show more intent in front of goal when they face the Ivory Coast in Sion, Switzerland on Friday, but the enthusiastic crowd of Japanese fans that had gathered in Graz would have been happy that, for once, the manager had had little to apologise for.

------------

In the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup, J1 strugglers Kyoto Sanga and Jubilo Iwata won both of their respective matches this week to move to the top of their group tables, as Urawa Reds suffered consecutive home losses against Montedio Yamagata and Shimizu S-Pulse in Group B.



International friendly
Japan 1-2 England


Yamazaki Nabisco Cup (group stage, matchday 5)
Group A
Cerezo Osaka 0-1 Vegalta Sendai
Albirex Niigata 1-0 Omiya Ardija
Kyoto Sanga 1-0 Nagoya Grampus

Group B
Jubilo Iwata 2-0 Vissel Kobe
Yokohama F Marinos 3-0 Shonan Bellmare
Urawa Reds 0-1 Shimizu S-Pulse


Yamazaki Nabisco Cup (group stage, matchday 4)
Group A
Vegalta Sendai 1-0 FC Tokyo
Albirex Niigata 1-4 Kyoto Sanga
Nagoya Grampus 1-1 Cerezo Osaka

Group B
Urawa Reds 0-2 Montedio Yamagata
Shonan Bellmare 1-2 Jubilo Iwata
Vissel Kobe 3-1 Shimizu S-Pulse



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