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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Nakamura energizes triumphant Japan

Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Japan got its bid for a fourth-straight World Cup appearance back on track with a commanding 3-0 win over Oman on Monday night.

News photo
Master of the game: Japan midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura sets the tone for the host country in Monday's World Cup Asian qualifier against Oman at Nissan Stadium. Japan won 3-0. KYODO PHOTO

Takeshi Okada's men took the lead through an 11th-minute Yuji Nakazawa header and never looked back as Shunsuke Nakamura stamped his dominance on an Oman side that looked out of its depth from the first whistle.

Yoshito Okubo and Nakamura added goals on either side of halftime, helping Okada's men erase the memory of March's 1-0 defeat to Bahrain and putting them back in the driver's seat in World Cup Asian Qualifying Group 2.

Manager Okada was happy with the result, but still sees room for improvement before his side heads to Muscat to play Oman again on June 7.

"We didn't put enough pressure on them in the first half, and although we got two good goals our movement slowed after that," he said. "Shunsuke's goal early in the second half made it easier for us, but we still should have scored more considering all the crosses we put into the box.

"Having said that, the players did well to battle on until the end, and I have to congratulate them for that."

Nakamura, who had accused his teammates of selfish play after last week's 0-0 stalemate with Paraguay, was in far better spirits after scoring one and playing a superb ball to teammate Marcus Tulio Tanaka to set up another for Okubo.

"Everyone went hard at it, and I was pleased that we were able to win the ball back whenever we lost possession," Nakamura said. "Tulio was in a good position for the second goal and that's the kind of run he is good at making."

Okada again reshuffled his pack, casting Yasuhito Endo as a deep-lying midfield pivot with Makoto Hasebe prowling the center of the park alongside him.

Oman's shaky defense was exposed early when a fluffed third-minute clearance fell to Keiji Tamada directly in front of goal, only for the Nagoya Grampus striker to blaze his shot high over the bar.

Nakazawa made no such mistake less than 10 minutes later, easily shrugging off his marker to plant a firm header on the end of Endo's corner to give Japan the lead.

Nakamura grew in influence as he found more and more space down the right flank, and Oman's Bolton Wanderers goalkeeper, Ali al Habsi, had to be on his toes to close the Celtic midfielder down after Yuichi Komano put him through on goal with a clever throw-in.

But Nakamura would not be restrained for long. His perfectly weighted long ball forward found Tulio in acres of space in the penalty area, and the Urawa Reds defender duly knocked the ball down for Okubo to ram the ball past al Habsi for Japan's second goal.

Tamada missed a golden chance to make it three when he failed to get on the end of Daisuke Matsui's cross in the 34th minute, marking the last real chance of the first half as Japan's burst of intensity eased into a period of assured control.

But the home side raised the tempo again as the second half began, and within minutes Nakamura had increased Japan's lead, collecting a pass from Matsui and going past his man with a dip of the shoulder before cracking the ball into the corner of the net.

Nakamura tried his luck with a free kick in the 57th minute, and Oman's Hassan Madhafar cleared more danger when he hooked a goalward-bound shot off the line with Japan still pressing forward in search of another.

Matsui turned on the style when his trickery on the wing left an Omani defender flat on his back in the 77th minute, only for Tamada to miss the resulting cross. Nakamura was unlucky not to claim his second of the night when he shot over the bar with the match easing toward full-time, but by then the Celtic playmaker had done more than enough to secure a convincing win for his team.

Barry ends drought

Port-of-Spain (AP) Gareth Barry scored his first England goal eight years after making his debut, in a 3-0 friendly victory over Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday.

The Aston Villa midfielder volleyed over the 'keeper in the 12th minute.

Jermain Defoe doubled the visitors' advantage in the 16th with his first international goal since September 2006 and the Portsmouth striker added a third in the 49th.

Inter hires Mourinho

MILAN , Italy (AP) Jose Mourinho is the new Inter Milan coach.

The former Chelsea and FC Porto coach has signed a three-year contract, the club announced Monday.

Inter fired coach Roberto Mancini last week.

Mourinho won the Champions League with Porto in 2004 and led Chelsea to English Premier League titles in 2005 and '06.

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