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Late goals give Japan triumph over Scotland

by Andrew Mckirdy

YOKOHAMA — Japan needed a late own-goal to open the door to a 2-0 win over Scotland on Saturday, as Takeshi Okada’s side struggled to find its rhythm in what had effectively become a B international.

Okada responded to 10 withdrawals from the Scots’ squad by fielding a second-string side of his own for the friendly at Nissan Stadium, and was rewarded with a performance befitting his players’ reserve status for most of the 90 minutes.

Japan struggled to find an answer to Scotland’s solid defending as the match seemed headed for a scoreless draw, but Christophe Berra turned in a Yuichi Komano cross with debutant Takayuki Morimoto lurking in the 82nd minute, before Keisuke Honda rattled in a second on the stroke of fulltime.

Okada lamented his side’s slow start, but was satisfied that the players who took the field have given him a selection headache ahead of Wednesday’s match against Togo.

“In the first half we couldn’t play our basic game of passing and moving and supporting quickly,” he said. “We had to raise the tempo and we did that towards the end of the first half, but their defense was very disciplined and we couldn’t find the chances to shoot.

“Komano’s cross was just as he does it in training, and it produced a good scoring chance anyway because Morimoto was there. It puts me in a very enviable position now, because there are a lot of good players to choose from.”

There was no place in Okada’s starting lineup for Catania striker Morimoto, but Naohiro Ishikawa claimed his first cap since February 2004 as he took up position behind Ryoichi Maeda in attack.

Honda almost caught the Scotland defense napping with a shot from distance as early as the sixth minute, before Kengo Nakamura scuffed a shot in front of goal from an Atsuto Uchida cross 10 minutes later.

But the missed chances allowed Scotland to gain a foothold as Craig Conway began to find more space down the left wing, and Nakamura missed an opportunity to nip the revival in the bud when he lashed a shot into the side-netting in the 35th minute.

The Kawasaki Frontale playmaker was again denied when he gave Stephen McManus enough time to block his shot minutes before halftime, and goalkeeper Craig Gordon also played his part as he got down to parry a Honda free kick shortly after the hour mark, only for Uchida to fire the loose ball across the face of the goal.

Eiji Kawashima also had to be alert to beat Steven Fletcher to the ball with the Burnley striker certain to score had he got the touch, but with time running out, substitute Komano swung in a cross that Berra stretched for, only for the Wolverhampton Wanderers defender to poke it past Gordon.

Honda then rifled home a second in the dying seconds, leaving Scotland manager George Burley with mixed emotions.

“It was a good workout for us and we worked hard,” he said. “But it was disappointing the way we conceded the first goal, and in international football the first goal is very important. Japan took their chance and got the second goal to win the match.”