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Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009

Japan crush Finland ahead of qualifier


Staff writer

Japan gave national team manager Takeshi Okada a welcome tonic ahead of next week's World Cup-qualifying match against Australia with a resounding 5-1 win over Finland on Wednesday night.

News photo
Strike a pose: Forward Shinji Okazaki scores his second goal as Finnish defender Markus Halsti arrives too late during a friendly at National Stadium in Tokyo on Wednesday. KYODO PHOTO

Shinji Okazaki showed the way with a pair of clinical first-half strikes before Shinji Kagawa weighed in with a fine finish of his own to give Japan a 3-0 lead at the interval.

Roni Porokara pulled one back for the Finns in the 50th minute, but a header from Yuji Nakazawa and a late drive from Michihiro Yasuda wrapped up the scoring at Tokyo's National Stadium for a Japan team playing without its Europe-based personnel.

Okada knows there is still work to be done before next Wednesday's crunch match in Yokohama, but the manager now has renewed confidence his players can get the job done.

"It was a test, so we stressed certain points tonight," he said. "Some worked and some didn't work so well.

"Thinking of the Australia game, it will surely be harder than tonight, but we have gained several things. I especially feel that some of the extra players have shown they can handle their role and they will be able to step in if the foreign-based players are not available.

"The Australia game will be different, so now I want to focus on that. But after tonight's performance I am feeling up for it."

Okada plumped for Ryota Tsuzuki over Eiji Kawashima in the absence of injured first-choice goalkeepers Seigo Narazaki and Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, and the Urawa Reds man was forced into action with only six minutes gone as he turned away a shot from Jussi Kujala.

But the early scare was soon forgotten when Japan grabbed the lead on the 15-minute mark. After a patient buildup, Atusto Uchida strafed a pass deep out of defense for Okazaki to chase, and the striker cracked a first-time left-foot strike past the flailing Tomi Maanoja for the opener.

Japan failed to maintain control after taking the lead, and Tim Sparv almost punished the home side when he rattled the underside of Tsuzuki's crossbar with a shot from outside the area.

But Okazaki was hungry for more, and in the 32nd minute he doubled Japan's advantage with an almost-carbon copy strike. Kengo Nakamura released the Shimizu S-Pulse man with a ball over the top, and Okazaki used his right foot this time to hammer the ball into the corner of the net.

And there was just enough time for Kagawa to make it three before halftime. The 19-year-old took advantage of a slack pass from the Finnish midfield, controlling the ball amid three defenders before coolly making space to slide the ball past Maanoja.

Finland reduced the arrears five minutes into the second half when Niklas Tarvajarvi's challenge from a corner unsettled Tsuzuki, and Porokara was on hand to guide the loose ball home.

But Okada's men stretched their legs again in the 57th minute as Uchida picked out Nakazawa with a cross into the box that the center back buried with a firm header.

Nakazawa had to be on hand minutes later at the other end to clear a dangerous Finnish attack, before Hideo Hashimoto went close to notching another for Japan with play winding down.

Substitute Teemu Pukki sent a late drive fizzing past Tsuzuki's post, but Yasuda had the final word as his fierce shot spun off Maanoja and in for the fifth goal in the 86th minute.



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