Japan Under-22s held to scoreless draw by U.S.

by James Mulligan

Japan was twice denied by the woodwork as the United States held on for a scoreless draw in an Under-22 friendly soccer match in Kumamoto on Wednesday evening.

Yasuharu Sorimachi’s men dominated but couldn’t find a way past U.S. ‘keeper Chris Seitz.

The match served as a warmup ahead of next week’s opening Asian qualifier against Hong Kong for a berth at the Beijing Olympics.

“Of course we wanted to win this match but the United States were a tough team to beat and we couldn’t find the decisive goal,” Under-22 coach Sorimachi said.

“We haven’t practiced much defensively so we found some problems to address in this match. For example, how to deal with crosses.

“We need to solve these problems before the qualifying starts next week,” Sorimachi said.

Japan lined up a three-pronged attack with an international flavor against the U.S., with FC Tokyo’s Sota Hirayama, Jubilo Iwata’s Bobby Cullen, whose father is Northern Irish, and Kashiwa Reysol’s recently naturalized Tadanari Ri from South Korea combining to good effect early on.

For all their good work, though, the hosts failed to make the breakthrough. The closest they got was late in the second half when JEF United Chiba’s Koki Mizuno weaved his way past two challenges before seeing his shot cannon off the post.

Hirayama, who hit the post with a header and was substituted in the second half, was disappointed with the lack of goals.

“We need to improve our shooting to finish off the game,” Hirayama said. “The way to do this is we need to use the wings better when we are attacking.”

Sorimachi’s men play Hong Kong at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Feb. 28 in their first qualifier for what they hope will be Japan’s fourth straight appearance in the Olympic tournament.

The last time the Japanese won an Olympic medal in soccer was at the Mexico Games in 1968, when they claimed bronze.