RIFU, Miyagi Prefecture – Shinji Okazaki grabbed his second international hat trick in the space of a week as Japan put Togo to the sword with a 5-0 win on Wednesday.
The Africans paid the price for turning up for the friendly at Miyagi Stadium with a squad of only 14 players, as Okazaki struck twice and Takayuki Morimoto opened his international account to put Japan 3-0 ahead after only 11 minutes.
The goals dried up as the shell-shocked Togolese began to find their feet, but Okazaki — fresh from scoring three in last Thursday’s 6-0 drubbing of Hong Kong — bagged his hat trick in the 65th minute before substitute Keisuke Honda completed the rout five minutes from time.
The Shimizu S-Pulse striker has now scored 14 international goals this year, but was quick to play down his starring role.
“My teammates were giving me excellent service today, and it was just a matter of me finishing off the chances,” he said.
Manager Takeshi Okada was also impressed with his team’s performance, even if the opposition did not receive the same seal of approval.
“This series was the start of our buildup towards the World Cup, and of course it’s better to play stronger opponents,” he said. “But the most important thing is that whoever we play we have to keep going for the full 90 minutes.
“The players realized this and kept passing and trying to create chances, and as the manager that is great to see. The World Cup is only eight months away, and the battle starts now.”
Eight players withdrew from Togo’s squad — including Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor — after a 3-0 defeat to Cameroon on Saturday ended the Sparrow Hawks’ hopes of reaching the World Cup.
Amid such disarray off the pitch, it came as no real surprise when Okazaki put Japan two goals ahead within the first eight minutes. Yasuhito Endo pounced on a poor goal-kick to set up the striker for his first of the evening, before Kengo Nakamura supplied a low cross for the second.
Morimoto ensured there would be no respite, collecting a pass from Yuto Nagatomo and showing impressive strength to hold off the 194-cm Boussari Akinsola before turning and lashing in Japan’s third.
Togo ‘keeper Dodji Obilale redeemed himself to some degree when he stopped Kengo Nakamura racing through on goal 10 minutes later, then denied Okazaki with a smart parry on the half-hour mark.
Okada tried to reopen the floodgates with a rash of halftime substitutions, but Frontale’s Nakamura and Espanyol namesake Shunsuke both missed chances before Okazaki completed his hat trick. Makoto Hasebe swung in a cross deep from the right, and the 23-year-old rose to plant a sweet header past Obilale.
Honda squandered several opportunities to add to Japan’s tally, but the VVV-Venlo midfielder eventually hit the target, slotting home a side-foot strike almost identical to his goal in Saturday’s win over Scotland.
“We are still a young team and Japan play to a very high level,” Togo manager Hubert Velud said. “They might struggle to match teams like Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire physically, but they are organized enough to be able to compete.
“If we had a full complement of players we could have attacked them more, so it’s disappointing.”