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Kagawa steals show as Japan routs rival

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Borussia Dortmund star Shinji Kagawa stole the show with a double on his return to the national team as Japan whipped archrival South Korea 3-0 on Wednesday in its final warmup ahead of the qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup.

Playing his first international since breaking his right foot against the same opponent at the Asian Cup in January, Kagawa broke the deadlock with a fine finish 10 minutes before the break to trigger scenes of delirious celebration at Sapporo Dome.

Substitute Hiroshi Kiyotake set up Keisuke Honda for Japan’s second and then provided the final goal for Kagawa on his senior national team debut to ensure Japan heads into the qualifiers starting next month with confidence sky high.

“We played well from the start and obviously I am delighted with the result and performance,” said Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni.

“We never lost our focus for the whole 90 minutes and to beat a team like South Korea the way we did today gives us a lot of confidence for the qualifiers starting in September.”

Japan beat South Korea 3-0 on penalties after an absorbing 2-2 draw in the semifinals of the Asian Cup in Qatar before going on to lift the title for a record fourth time.

But this was the Asian champions’ first victory over South Korea on home soil since 1998 and also preserved Zaccheroni’s unbeaten start since succeeding Takeshi Okada last autumn.

Japan’s players wore black armbands and a moment’s silence was held before the game in honor of former Japan defender Naoki Matsuda, who passed away last week at age 34 following a heart attack.

Both sides enjoyed scoring opportunities in a full-blooded first half and Shinji Okazaki’s shot just over with less then two minutes gone set the tone.

Celtic defender Cha Du Ri tested Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima with a stinging effort on eight minutes and the South Koreans saw a golden chance go begging when Kim Jung Woo sent a free header over midway through the first period.

But Japan enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure and took the lead when Kagawa beat two defenders and stabbed home from close range after Tadanari Lee had flicked on a pass from Yasuhito Endo.

Home fans were on their feet again eight minutes into the second half, Kiyotake picking out Honda after South Korea keeper Jung Sung Ryong could only parry Yuichi Komano’s shot, and Kagawa finished off a one-two with Kiyotake to round off the scoring.