Monday 07 June 2010

Elephants condemn Japan to fourth straight World Cup warm-up defeat



Takeshi Okada’s problems continued on Friday as his Japanese national team lost 2-0 to the Ivory Coast in their final scheduled warm-up game before the World Cup kicks off in South Africa later this week.

After a pair of own goals had gifted a 2-1 victory to England in Graz five days earlier, Japan’s calamitous defence needed just 12 minutes to pick up where it left off. Didier Drogba’s free kick first deflected off Shinji Okazaki in the wall, before defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka inadvertently bundled the ball past his own goalkeeper for the second time in two games - causing Japan Football Association President Motoaki Inukai to joke that ‘he’ll probably end up top scorer’ in the World Cup.

Tanaka and Drogba were involved in another incident just four minutes later when the former’s high challenge left the Chelsea striker reeling on the ground with a fractured right forearm. The injury and its potential implications - Drogba underwent emergency surgery in Berne and remains a serious doubt for South Africa - cast a shadow over the rest of the game, but the Ivorians were rarely troubled throughout and doubled their lead when Kolo Toure got a foot to Saka Tiene’s crossed free kick ten minutes from time.

Okada suggested before the match that his line-up would closely resemble that which will face Cameroon in Japan’s opening Group E match in Bloemfontein next Monday. With no changes to the starting eleven from the England friendly, Eiji Kawashima was given the chance to cement his place as starting goalkeeper ahead of Seigo Narazaki, while Yuki Abe was once again deployed in a defensive midfield role.

Against physically imposing opponents, however, Japan once again struggled to regain possession of the ball, and offered little in the way of attacking threat despite a more promising showing at the back after the early own goal. The only real chance of the first half came on 40 minutes when Keisuke Honda fired narrowly over from 25 yards. Abe and Honda were withdrawn at the interval as Junichi Inamoto and Shunsuke Nakamura made their returns from injury, but the latter’s low free kick into the grateful arms of Elephants’ goalkeeper Boubacar Barry was the closest anyone in a blue shirt came to finding a way through.

The defeat marks the first time that Japan have lost four consecutive ‘A’ internationals in twelve years since France ’98, when they were also led by current boss Okada. The manager was predictably subdued in his post-match interviews, though insisted that two games against top class opponents in England and the Ivory Coast could only have benefited his side.

Japan’s backup players were able to win a 45-minute practice match against the Ivorian reserves immediately after the main event, but the solitary goalscorer, Kensuke Nagai, is only travelling with the squad for support and is not part of the official 23. Press reports this morning suggest that Okada is now looking to organise one more warm-up match before the World Cup begins against a lower-ranked African national side or a local club team.

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Throughout the 2010 World Cup, the Football Japan Minutecast will be online several times each week with previews and reports of every single Japan game, starting on Sunday 13 June with a look ahead to Japan vs. Cameroon. A series of special features will also be broadcast direct from Johannesburg in early July as the knockout stages unfold.



International friendly
Japan 0-2 Ivory Coast


Yamazaki Nabisco Cup (group stage, matchday 6)
Group A
Vegalta Sendai 0-0 Nagoya Grampus
Omiya Ardija 2-1 Cerezo Osaka
FC Tokyo 1-0 Kyoto Sanga

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



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