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Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010

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No fear: Japan's Shinji Okazaki fires a shot against Argentina in Friday's friendly match at Saitama Stadium 2002. Thanks to the forward's 19th-minute goal, Japan beat the South Americans 1-0 in its first game under Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni. KYODO PHOTO

Zaccheroni records win in Japan debut

Okazaki's 19th-minute tally stuns Argentina

Staff writer

SAITAMA — Japan stunned a full-strength Argentina 1-0 on Friday night to hand Alberto Zaccheroni a dream start to his reign as national team manager.

A crowd of 57,735 turned out at Saitama Stadium to watch a South American side featuring world player of the year Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Diego Milito, but instead it was Shinji Okazaki who stole the show with an opportunistic strike in the 19th minute to settle the match.

The win was a fair result for a lively Japan playing its first game under Zaccheroni, and the Italian was understandably excited at claiming such a prestigious scalp at the first time of asking.

"I'm very pleased about the result," he said. "My debut game was a very important game against one of the best teams in the world, and it was tough. But I told the players that if they believed in themselves, they could get a result."

Injuries to regular central defenders Yuji Nakazawa and Marcus Tulio Tanaka opened the door for Yasuyuki Konno and Yuzo Kurihara, with Takayuki Morimoto again taking up position as the lone striker in front of Keisuke Honda.

Kurihara almost got Japan off to the worst possible start when he stumbled in the box with Diego Milito lurking with less than a minute on the clock, and there was another reprieve five minutes later when Messi chipped onto the roof of the net after a typical slaloming run at the heart of the defense.

Japan's stage fright soon wore off, however, and Okazaki drew a point-blank save from Sergio Romero after slipping his marker to meet a teasing cross from Atsuto Uchida.

Ten minutes later, the Shimizu S-Pulse striker went one better. Romero could not keep hold of a long-range shot from Makoto Hasebe, and Okazaki reacted while the Argentine defense stood still to give Japan a shock lead.

Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima excelled himself to deny Tevez and Messi with Argentina pushing hard for an equalizer, but Japan could have gone into halftime with a two-goal advantage had Uchida not screwed a shot over minutes before the break.

Honda then almost reprised his World Cup heroics only for Romero to save a carbon copy of the midfielder's free kick goal against Denmark in South Africa this summer, and Japan continued to dominate with the visitors making a sluggish start to the second half.

Substitute Ryoichi Maeda went close with a run and shot wide as Japan pressed for another, before laying on a cross that went just beyond Honda's reach. Tevez and Messi also had their chances at the other end, but Japan's defense had the bit between its teeth and the visitors began to find themselves with less and less space to work in.

Maeda almost added the cherry on top with three minutes to go, however, running the length of the field and holding off a scrambling Argentine defense only to see Romero plunge to his right to steer the ball to safety.

Brazil triumphs

ABU DHABI (AP) Daniel Alves, Alexandre Pato and Nilmar scored in Brazil's 3-0 friendly international win over Iran on Thursday, giving new coach Mano Menezes his second straight victory.

The match marked the first time the two nations have ever met in a senior international.

Daniel Alves scored on a 14th-minute free kick, Alexandre Pato made it 2-0 in the 69th with his third goal in 10 international appearances, and Nilmar scored his ninth international goal in the second minute of stoppage time.

Iran had a goal disallowed in the fifth minute for offside.

"I want to see Brazil play a beautiful game again," Menezes said. "We haven't closed the door on anybody . . . but for now we have to see new players, we have to."

Brazil plays Ukraine on Monday at Derby, England, as it prepares for next summer's Copa America.

Pato also scored as the five-time World Cup champions beat the United States 2-0 on Aug. 10 in Menezes' first game on the bench.

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