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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Japan stumbles in World Cup tuneup

South Korea beats Okada's squad for the second time this year

Staff writer

SAITAMA — South Korea sent Japan off to the World Cup with plenty to think about after a 2-0 defeat on Monday night.

News photo
Active feet: Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda (left) and South Korea defender Kwak Tae Hwi compete for the ball in the first half of Monday's international friendly at Saitama Stadium 2002. South Korea won 2-0. KYODO PHOTO

A crowd of 57,873 arrived at Saitama Stadium to bid farewell to Takeshi Okada's side before it heads to its pre-tournament training camp in Switzerland on Wednesday, with revenge also in the air after losing to the Koreans at the East Asian Football Championship earlier this year.

But instead it was the visitors who claimed local bragging rights again, Manchester United's Park Ji Sung opening the scoring in the sixth minute before Park Chu Young capped a dominant performance with an injury-time penalty.

"That's the second time we've lost to Korea within the space of a year, and I have to apologize for that," said Okada, who survived crisis talks with Japan Football Association president Motoaki Inukai after his team's 3-1 defeat in February. "I have just spoken to the president and asked him if he wanted me to carry on. He told me to continue.

"It is our job to get results and we couldn't do that today, so it's my responsibility. Now we just have to keep moving forward and believing in ourselves."

Japan has two friendly matches remaining before it opens its World Cup campaign against Cameroon in Bloemfontein on June 14. Okada's side faces England on May 30 before a final tuneup against Cote d'Ivoire on June 4.

"In the first half we wanted to keep it at 0-0, so when they scored it made things difficult," said Okada. "One thing I have taken from this match is that when you play against opponents like this you have to fight."

Park Ji Sung brought the noise levels among a boisterously expectant crowd down a notch with a well-taken goal in the sixth minute. The South Korean captain collected the ball and surged deep into Japanese territory, before letting fly with a right-foot shot that Seigo Narazaki was helpless to prevent from nestling in the corner of the net.

News photo
Japan soccer fans give the team a spirited sendoff for the World Cup in South Africa during Monday's friendly against South Korea at Saitama Stadium 2002. South Korea beat Japan 2-0. KYODO PHOTO

Kim Jung Woo went close to doubling the visitors' lead when he found himself unmarked at a corner in the 14th minute, and it was not until Yoshito Okubo's tenacious run and shot over the bar midway through the first half that Japan began to show signs of life.

A lung-bursting tackle on Yuto Nagatomo by Park Ji Sung shortly before the break showed what Okada's side was up against, but Japan began the second half with more composure and Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda both missed chances to draw level.

Okada threw on Takayuki Morimoto for Shunsuke Nakamura to bolster the attack shortly afterward, but instead it was South Korean substitute Kim Nam Il who went closest to hitting the target when Narazaki tipped his attempted lob over the bar with 10 minutes remaining.

Japan's last-ditch assault then left the door open for the counterattack, and Park Chu Young took full advantage when he raced through in injury time, dispatching the penalty himself after Narazaki had brought him down in the box.

"Japan were giving it their all and so were we, so it made for a good match," said South Korea manager Huh Jung Moo. "This was a big plus for us in our preparations for the World Cup. Playing in front of a full house was good for the players in terms of keeping their concentration until the end, and we kept going until the final whistle."

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