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Monday, June 1, 2009

Japan routs Belgium in Kirin finale


Special to The Japan Times

Japan will leave for Uzbekistan on Tuesday with confidence sky-high after beating Belgium 4-0 to win the Kirin Cup in emphatic style at Tokyo National Stadium on Sunday evening.

News photo
Midfield maestro: Japan midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura kicks a centering pass during the Kirin Cup against Belgium on Sunday at Tokyo's National Stadium. Japan won 4-0 and clinched the Kirin Cup championship for the third straight year and 10th overall time. KYODO PHOTO

The Japanese followed up their 4-0 demolition of Chile at Osaka on Wednesday with another high-octane performance, creating chances galore in a dominating display.

Although crowd favorite Shunsuke Nakamura returned to the lineup, it was the other Nakamura — Kengo of Kawasaki Frontale — who orchestrated the victory, setting up the first goal for left back Yuto Nagatomo and scoring the second himself to give Japan a 2-0 lead at the break.

Shinji Okazaki, who scored twice against Chile, made it 3-0 on the hour when he met Yoshito Okubo's right-wing cross with a diving header at the near post — a goal which surely cemented his place in the starting lineup in Tashkent.

When substitute Kisho Yano slid in for Japan's fourth in the 77th minute, turning in Nagatomo's fizzing cross from the left, the match had become a rout — and Japan's second successive 4-0 victory. To highlight the party atmosphere, the 42,520 fans ended the night with the Mexican Wave rolling around the grand old stadium, giving Japan a stirring send-off for the World Cup battles to come.

Japan coach Takeshi Okada could not have asked for much more from the Kirin Cup ahead of Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan in Tashkent, where three points would clinch a place in the 2010 World Cup.

"We really wanted to win this tournament before heading to Uzbekistan and we are pleased to have achieved that objective," Okada said. "I have no complaints about scoring goals, but this is no guarantee we can do it in the next match. We just have to do our best to keep building one small piece at a time."

Belgium's manager, Frankie Vercauteren, congratulated Japan and admitted there was a big gap between the two teams on the night.

"There was one moment when we could have come closer, but on the other hand it was no game because there was too much difference in quality," said the former national team and Anderlecht midfielder.

Nagatomo had been forced to pull out of the squad for the Chile game after showing symptoms of appendicitis, but all he showed to the Belgian defense was a clean pair of heels as he sprinted down the left flank in the third minute and crossed to the back post. Kengo Nakamura had the goal at his mercy, but headed the ball straight at a defender and then saw his followup attempt blocked for a corner.

On the other wing, right back Atsuto Uchida displayed a sound first touch to race into the box, but his desperate dive to win a penalty was met with only a shake of the head by English referee Rob Styles. As the player ran back to his position, Styles shook Uchida's hand as if to say: "Nice try, son — but no more of that, thank you."

Chances came and went — notably when Okubo hit the post from only a few meters out — until Japan finally took the lead in the 21st minute through Nagatomo. An exchange of passes on the edge of the box ended with Kengo Nakamura playing in Nagatomo, who had found space behind the Belgian defense on the left and beat 'keeper Stijn Stijnen at his near post with a firm, left-foot drive high into the net.

With Japan finally on the board, the second goal followed just two minutes later, as Kengo Nakamura surged through the middle, checked inside Toby Alderweireld and finished confidently with his right foot.

A slip by Marcus Tulio Tanaka gave Kevin Roelandts — Belgium's scorer in the 1-1 draw with Chile on Friday — a clear chance to pull one back in the 31st minute, but he fired wide under pressure from Yuji Nakazawa racing to close him down.

As Japan finished the half strongly, Makoto Hasebe rattled the crossbar with an expertly crafted dipping volley from just outside the box.

Okada made two changes at the break, replacing Shunsuke Nakamura with Keisuke Honda and Hasebe with Hideo Hashimoto.

The tempo dropped significantly in the second half, with Japan content to retain possession and choose its moments to switch up a gear.

Honda came close with an acrobatic attempt from a Nagatomo cross, before Okazaki wrapped up the win with Japan's third goal — and his third of the Kirin Cup.

Okada kept the pressure on by introducing fresh faces into the midfield and attack, and Yano's determination earned him Japan's fourth goal 13 minutes from time.



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