TASHKENT – Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni hailed his players’ determination to try and finish off Uzbekistan after the Asian champions came from behind to earn a share of the spoils in a World Cup qualifying 1-1 draw in Tashkent on Tuesday.
Japan was outplayed on a bumpy pitch for much of the first half after Uzbekistan’s star midfielder Server Djeparov fired the home side in front in a cauldron-like atmosphere at Pakhtakor Stadium.
But Uzbekistan found Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima in inspired form and after Shinji Okazaki leveled on what is fast becoming something of a happy hunting ground for the Stuttgart striker, Japan threw caution to the wind and went for the jugular.
The result left both the Blue Samurai and Uzbekistan tied with four points after two games, one ahead of North Korea, who beat Tajikistan 1-0 to pick up their first win in Group C.
“It was a difficult game against strong opponents. We knew that it going to be tough. Uzbekistan played at a really high tempo for the first 45 minutes and played with a lot of determination,” said Zaccheroni.
“We couldn’t keep the right distance between our players and allowed Uzbekistan too much space. The match changed in the second half and Uzbekistan couldn’t maintain the tempo they had in the first half. But our style of play is with pace and the pitch didn’t suit that.”
“But in the second half we tried to win the game and I am pleased that my players took risks and showed that they wanted to win,” he said.
Zaccheroni opted to start captain Makoto Hasebe in an attacking midfield role and handed Leicester City utility man Yuki Abe his first start since last year’s World Cup on his 30th birthday.
But the Italian tactician made switches after the break and took Abe off and put Hasebe back alongside Yasuhito Endo in a more familiar central position.
“I put Hasebe back in his normal position because I wanted to keep the right distance between Hasebe and Endo because they have been playing so well together for so long and know each other so well,” said Zaccheroni.
“I thought that was the right thing to do to play them side by side. It is not that Abe had a bad game and the reason I played Abe (at the expense of Yosuke Kashiwagi) is because I wanted experience on a difficult pitch like this.”
Okazaki, who scored the winner here in June 2009 when Japan sealed qualification for the last year’s World Cup, said he was pleased to score again with his 22nd goal but issued himself a must-do-better report.
“I think I was a bit more dynamic than in the North Korea game (last Friday) and was able to get behind their defense and got myself a goal so I don’t think I played that badly,” said Okazaki.
Medals to go on sale
Coin importer Taisei Coins Corp. on Wednesday began subscription sales for medals to commemorate the victory of the Japanese women’s national soccer team in the Women’s World Cup this year.
The medals authorized by FIFA, produced by the Berlin Mint in Germany, which hosted the tournament, depict members of the team playing in the final and celebrating at their victory ceremony.
A set of three gold medals is priced at ¥31,500 and that of three silver and white copper medals at ¥15,750.
There will be 1,500 sets of gold medals and 3,000 sets of silver and white copper medals available.