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Sunday, Sept. 5, 2010

Kagawa's goal lifts Japan in rematch against Paraguay

Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Japan gained a measure of revenge for this summer's World Cup exit by beating second-round conqueror Paraguay 1-0 on Saturday night.

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New start: Japan forward Takayuki Morimoto battles a Paraguay defender for control of the ball during Japan's first international friendly match after the World Cup in Yokohama on Saturday. KYODO PHOTO

The South Americans broke Japanese hearts with a 5-3 penalty shootout win after a 0-0 draw in Pretoria on June 29, but a well-taken second-half goal from Shinji Kagawa was enough to settle the rematch in front of 65,157 at Nissan Stadium.

The match was one of two friendlies to be played under Japan Football Association technical director Hiromi Hara before he hands over to manager-in-waiting Alberto Zaccheroni, and the caretaker was glad he could play his part after being accused of bungling the search for Takeshi Okada's successor.

"We were in decent shape but Paraguay had been training here since Tuesday and they were better prepared than us," Hara said. "I didn't manage to get our new manager finalized in time so I have to take responsibility for that.

"But I told the players that they couldn't use everything that has been going on as an excuse. This is the start of a new stage and we needed to make sure we did it well. We have a lot of players who can be very direct and I wanted them to do that without fear tonight.

"I wanted to show Zaccheroni a wide range of players and help him as much as I could. He didn't choose the players for tonight but this is the national team and the players have a responsibility to give it their all."

Hara began with only five members of the side that started in South Africa, with Yuichi Komano denied the chance to earn redemption for his decisive penalty shootout miss as Atsuto Uchida reclaimed his place at right back. Urawa Reds' Hajime Hosogai made his debut in central midfield, while Takayuki Morimoto took up position as the lone striker in front of World Cup hero Keisuke Honda.

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Loyal supporters: Fans show support for new Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni's team on Saturday at Nissan Stadium. Japan defeated Paraguay 1-0 as Zaccheroni observed his new charges from the stands. while Hiromi Hara served as the acting coach. KYODO PHOTO

The attacking pair almost combined to give Japan the lead in the ninth minute, but Morimoto could not connect with Honda's free kick and goalkeeper Justo Villar was able to swat the ball away from danger. Daisuke Matsui also failed to capitalize on Honda's good work soon after, snatching at a header with the goal there for the taking.

Roque Santa Cruz and Lucas Barrios both had chances as Paraguay began to stamp its authority on the first half, but Japan almost had the last say when Yuji Nakazawa forced Villar into a clawing save to keep out a goalbound header seconds before the whistle.

But if Jonathan Santana's narrow miss a minute after the restart suggested the South Americans were about to dish out more of the same, Kagawa had other ideas. Kengo Nakamura fed the 21-year-old with a brilliant through ball, and Kagawa kept his cool to slot the ball past Villar.

Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima prevented Barrios from making an instant reply with a sprawling save, and substitute Shinji Okazaki almost doubled Japan's lead in the 75th minute as he lunged at Yuto Nagatomo's teasing cross.

"If you compare this game to the World Cup, there was a lot more space tonight and both teams had chances to score," said Paraguay manager Gerardo Martino. "Their goalkeeper had a very good game and their defense was solid. But we have to take responsibility for our failings in front of goal too. It was a combination of these two things that stopped us (from) scoring."

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