Tuesday 11 September 2012

World Cup ticket within reach as Japan edge past Iraq



The Japan national team moved into a commanding position at the top of Group B in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup following a 1-0 victory over Iraq at Saitama Stadium on Tuesday evening.

Ryoichi Maeda netted the only goal on 25 minutes to take the Samurai Blue six points clear of Jordan, who enjoyed a shock 2-1 win over Australia in Amman. Both the Socceroos and Iraq are now eight points off the pace, albeit with one game in hand.

Alberto Zaccheroni was forced into a last-minute reshuffle after Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa withdrew from the side having hurt his back in training. Hiroshi Kiyotake started on the left of midfield with Shinji Okazaki on the right.

Suspensions for defenders Atsuto Uchida and Yuzo Kurihara saw Yuichi Komano come in at right-back and Masahiko Inoha partner Maya Yoshida in the centre.

Iraq coach Zico claimed to know ‘everything’ about Japan before the game, having played for Kashima Antlers in the first two J. League seasons and managed the national team between 2002 and 2006. His selection was somewhat eccentric, however, with fully ten changes to the starting line-up and full international debuts handed to youngsters Ali Bahjat and Waleed Saleem.

If anything, this at least had the effect of confusing the Japanese defenders when it came to who they should mark at set pieces. Hammadi Ahmad had a great chance to open the scoring for the visitors when he was found completely unmarked at the far post from an Iraq corner, but his shot flew wide via a slight deflection off Yuto Nagatomo.

But Japan slowly found their rhythm midway through the first half, with Okazaki and Maeda resuming the fine understanding they demonstrated at last year’s Asian Cup to create the crucial opener. Okazaki volleyed the ball across the six yard line for the Jubilo Iwata forward to react quickest and head past Noor Sabri.

The home side remained in control thereafter, but struggled to create many chances while occasionally offering Iraq hope on the counter. Ahmed Yasin forced a decent save out of Eiji Kawashima a few minutes before half time with an excellent shot that curled around Komano.

Japan were more careful on the ball in the second period and appeared content to hold onto both possession and points. They did create the best two opportunities, however, both falling to the head of Honda.

The CSKA Moscow man missed the target from Nagatomo’s cross, before connecting more cleanly with a pinpoint ball from the deeper-lying Kiyotake only to watch Sabri push it onto the post.

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Speaking to Asahi TV after the game, Zaccheroni said, “I am very happy to get the victory and the three points. It was a hard game between two teams that both expect to qualify for the World Cup, but we did well to win 1-0.

“I wasn’t worried about the opponents because I felt we would win if we played our game, but they put out 11 players in good condition and made things difficult at times. We want to get our ticket to the World Cup as quickly as possible, so our thoughts now immediately turn to the next game.”

Goalscorer Maeda added, “‘Oka’ sent in a great cross just like we had practised in training for me to score. We had fantastic supporters around us tonight, and I was happy to get the winning goal for them.”

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Over the weekend, there were upsets aplenty as the J. League sides entered the Emperor’s Cup at the second round proper, with six suffering immediate elimination at the hands of non-league opposition.

The biggest casualties were Sanfrecce Hiroshima, currently second in J1, who slipped to a 2-1 defeat against FC Imabari of the fourth-tier Shikoku League.

Hisato Sato looked to have prevented embarrassment for Hiroshima when his 75th-minute equaliser cancelled out an early opener from Ryusei Morikawa, but Shuya Takahashi lofted a perfect ball over the defence for Daiki Takada to volley Imabari into the last 32.

Holders FC Tokyo went out at the first hurdle at home to Yokogawa Musashino of the third-level Japan Football League thanks to a last-minute goal from Keisuke Iwata, while high-flying Sagan Tosu suffered an identical fate in their home tie with J. League promotion hopefuls Kamatamare Sanuki.

Consadole Sapporo lost on penalties to Nagano Parceiro, currently top of the JFL but ineligible for promotion until their new stadium is completed, while Vissel Kobe lost 2-1 to Sagawa Shiga.

J2 leaders Ventforet Kofu went down on spot kicks to Fukushima United of the fourth-tier Tohoku League Division 1.

It was not all bad news for the big clubs, however, as Jubilo Iwata ran out 7-0 winners over FC Suzuka Rampole, while Kashima Antlers thrashed the University of Tsukuba 7-1.

In the most remarkable matchup of the round, defending J. League champions Kashiwa Reysol emerged as 3-0 victors against their own Under-18 side.

A full list of results can be found below.


World Cup qualifying results – AFC fourth round
Group A
Uzbekistan L-L South Korea
Lebanon L-L Iran

Group B
Japan 1-0 Iraq
Oman L-L Australia


Emperor’s Cup second round results
Kashiwa Reysol 3-0 Kashiwa Reysol U18
Shonan Bellmare 1-0 Ehime FC
Consadole Sapporo 1-1 Nagano Parceiro (after extra time; Nagano won 5-3 on penalties)
FC Tokyo 0-1 Yokogawa Musashino
Jubilo Iwata 7-0 FC Suzuka Rampole
Matsumoto Yamaga 1-3 Kyoto Sanga
Vissel Kobe 1-2 Sagawa Shiga
JEF United Chiba 1-0 V-Varen Nagasaki
Vegalta Sendai 1-0 Sony Sendai
Roasso Kumamoto 4-3 FC Gifu (after extra time)
Omiya Ardija 2-0 Blaublitz Akita
Avispa Fukuoka 4-2 Fukuoka University
Yokohama F Marinos 4-2 Y.S.C.C.
Tochigi SC 0-1 Yokohama FC (after extra time)
Cerezo Osaka 4-0 Nara Club
Montedio Yamagata 3-0 Tonan Maebashi
Fagiano Okayama 2-0 Kataller Toyama
Nagoya Grampus 2-0 FC Kariya
Sagan Tosu 0-1 Kamatamare Sanuki
Urawa Reds 2-1 Volca Kagoshima
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 FC Imabari
Machida Zelvia 1-1 Giravanz Kitakyushu (after extra time; Machida won 5-4 on penalties)
Shimizu S-Pulse 5-0 Arterivo Wakayama
Tokyo Verdy 3-0 Hoyo Oita
Gamba Osaka 3-0 Kansai University
Oita Trinita 2-2 Mito HollyHock (after extra time; Mito won 5-3 on penalties)
Albirex Niigata 2-1 Saurcos Fukui (after extra time)
Ventforet Kofu 0-0 Fukushima United (after extra time; Fukushima won 4-3 on penalties)
Kashima Antlers 7-1 University of Tsukuba
Gainare Tottori 2-1 Thespa Kusatsu
Kawasaki Frontale 2-0 Tokuyama University
Tokushima Vortis 5-1 Fagiano Okayama Next


Ben Mabley will be analysing the English Premier League for the JSports programme ‘Foot!’ this season, every Tuesday night at 10pm on JSports 3.
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