OSAKA — Japan romped to a 4-0 victory over Chile in the opening match of the three-nation Kirin Cup at a blustery Osaka Nagai Stadium on Wednesday night.
After Shinji Okazaki had given Japan a 2-0 lead in the first half with his fourth and fifth goals for the national team, Yuki Abe and Keisuke Honda completed the rout in the second half.
Although the South Americans showed plenty of attacking ideas and some tough tackling, they were unable to pierce Japan’s defense and finished well beaten.
For Japan, the result and the performance were exactly what national coach Takeshi Okada was looking for ahead of the three World Cup qualifying matches in June.
Japan produced some slick passing moves in midfield, and the team in general had a hunger to shoot which has been sadly lacking in many recent displays.
Okada said the match had provided his team with valuable experience ahead of the tougher tests in June.
“The players were made to struggle at times in this match but they always found a way to overcome it, so it has been a good experience for them,” Okada said.
On the performance of goal-scorer Honda and 18-year-old debutant Naoki Yamada, who replaced the injured Kenji Tamada in the first half, Okada added: “Honda played very well to help the team score the goals, while Yamada played longer than I expected because of the injury to Tamada. I was able to see his potential.”
The set-piece delivery of Yasuhito Endo had already caused problems for Chile before Okazaki’s two-goal salvo within four minutes put the home side firmly in control.
The opening goal came in the 20th minute, after Okazaki had held the ball up well against the Chile defense and set up a shooting opportunity for Honda.
Full of confidence after his 16-goal, MVP season for VVV Venlo in the Dutch second division, Honda let fly from 30 meters with his trusty left foot and the shot was too hot to handle for Chile goalkeeper Miguel Pinto. Okazaki was on to the rebound in a blur of blue, steering the loose ball into the roof of the net for 1-0.
The goal spurred Japan forward even more, and Okazaki’s second in the 24th minute came courtesy of some fine control and a defense-splitting pass from captain Yuji Nakazawa.
Nakazawa, who does most of his best work in either of the two penalty boxes, pushed up on the right wing and played the ball through for Okazaki sprinting down the middle.
Okazaki took two touches to control the ball and, without breaking stride, finished calmly into the corner.
At 2-0, the Japanese were flying, but there was still work to do at the back as Chile tried to find a foothold.
This is where Abe justified his selection in the center of defense, in place of the injured Marcus Tulio Tanaka and alongside his captain, Nakazawa.
Abe came to Japan’s rescue with a series of perfectly timed clearing headers deep in his own box, allowing the midfield to regain possession and threaten Chile on the counter.
Unfortunately for Japan, a half-fit Tamada was proving to be a liability at both ends of the pitch, failing to control the ball in the Chile box and then losing possession in midfield to put his own team under pressure.
Okada took off the struggling Tamada in the 39th minute, and a huge roar filled the stadium when his replacement was Yamada, making his national team debut after a bright start to the J. League season with Urawa Reds.
The impish Yamada was quickly down to business, and gave Okazaki a wonderful opportunity to complete a first-half hat trick in the minute of stoppage time allowed by Danish referee Anders Hermansen. Breaking on the left, Yamada clipped the ball into the middle, but Okazaki could not control his header and the ball flew well wide.
Chile made two changes at the break, and Esteban Paredes should have done better with an early header after finding a gap in the Japan defense.
Japan recovered from this early scare and surged 3-0 ahead in the 52nd minute. Endo swung over a corner from the right, and Abe’s near-post header flashed into the net. It was no more than Abe’s mature, authoritative display at the back had deserved, and Okada will have a difficult selection issue to address when Tulio recovers from his hamstring injury.
In the 61st minute, Endo was replaced by his Gamba Osaka teammate Hideo Hashimoto, and shortly after Kengo Nakamura squandered a clear chance to make it 4-0 when he was caught in at least two minds and hit the outside of the post with the goal at his mercy following a mistake in the Chile defense.
Okazaki’s chances of a hat trick ended in the 71st minute when he was replaced by Kisho Yano, but the Shimizu S-Pulse forward received generous applause for his match-winning contribution.