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Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004

Japan's Olympic hopefuls hold Russia in friendly

FUKUROI, Shizuoka Pref. (Kyodo) Japan's Under-23s produced a gritty performance to hold the Russian national team to a 1-1 draw at home in a build-up match for the Athens Olympics Asian qualifiers on Wednesday evening.

Daiki Takamatsu fired Japan in front after good work from Marcus Tulio Tanaka but Dimitri Boulykin earned a share of the spoils for the Euro 2004 finalists shortly before halftime at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa.

Japan, which drew 1-1 with Iran's U-23s on Sunday, made a nervy start and Russia almost took the lead when captain Victor Onopko saw his header come back off the crossbar with Japan goalkeeper Takaya Kurokawa beaten.

Kurokawa then had to be alert to beat away a low shot from Eduard Mor in the 17th minute.

But Japan gradually settled and took the lead through Oita Trinita striker Takamatsu in the 33rd minute.

Tanaka charged through the Russian midfield and was brought down by Nikolay Olenikov just inside the box.

But instead of calling for a penalty, he reclaimed possession of the ball and put it into the path off Takamatsu, who made no mistake.

Japan's joy was short lived though as Boulykin picked up a neat pass from Alexander Kerzhakov and tucked the ball into the right-hand corner in the 39th minute.

Masakuni Yamamoto's men were unlucky not to snatch victory at the death when Tanaka unleashed a fierce shot that goalkeeper Viacheslav Malafeev deflected.

"The players were feeling a bit tired after our training camp but they showed a lot of commitment against Russia's senior side tonight," said Yamamoto after the match.

Japan is drawn in Group B with Bahrain, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates for the final round of qualifiers kicking off March 1 in the UAE.

Japan completes its preparations for the qualifiers with a friendly against South Korea on Feb. 21. Russia will play another friendly against J. League side Shimizu S-Pulse on Saturday.

Jubilo bags opener

SEOUL (AP) Japan's Jubilo Iwata beat Chonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea 2-1 on Wednesday in Group E of the Asian Champions League on Korea's southern resort island of Cheju.

Norihiro Nishi scored the match-winner after teammate Hiroshi Nanami tied the game in the 52nd minute off a corner pass by Nishi.

The South Koreans were ahead at halftime, with midfielder Lucena Edmilson Dias De chipping the ball over the Japanese goalkeeper minutes before the whistle.

The Asian Football Confederation launched the Champions League in August 2002. It was modeled on the European Champions League and replaced three existing tournaments: the Asian Club Championship, the Asian Cup Winners' Cup and the Asian Super Cup.

Chonbuk and Jubilo are in Group E with BEC Tero Sasana of Thailand and China's Shanghai Shenhua.



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