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Fujimoto, Makino notch first national team tallies in triumph

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Jungo Fujimoto and Tomoaki Makino both opened their national team accounts as Japan warmed up for next week’s World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan with a 3-1 win over Iceland in their first game of 2012 on Friday night.

With both Japan and Iceland fielding weakened teams, Ryoichi Maeda opened the scoring early on and Fujimoto clipped in the second eight minutes into the second half in chilly conditions at Nagai Stadium.

Makino then got in on the act 11 minutes from time with the third to condemn Iceland to defeat in its first game under new Swedish coach Lars Lagerback. Arnor Smarason replied with an injury-time consolation from the penalty spot for the visitors.

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni on Saturday names his squad for the Group C dead rubber against Uzbekistan in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, next Wednesday. Both teams are already in the March 9 draw for the final round of qualifiers for Brazil.

“This was our first game of the year, so we badly wanted to win and the players put in a good performance,” said Zaccheroni, whose 16-match unbeaten streak as coach of the Asian champions ended with defeat to North Korea in a World Cup qualifier last November.

“We are not in top condition physically but overall we played a good game and hopefully we can keep building on this,” the Italian added.

Yoshito Okubo won his 54th cap and first since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the veteran Vissel Kobe striker made his presence felt as Japan took the lead with less than two minutes gone.

Okubo fed Makino on the left flank and the Urawa Reds defender picked out Maeda with a clever cross to plant a firm header past Hannes Thor Halldorsson at his near post.

Iceland quickly regrouped though and nearly hit Japan on the break on 21 minutes, but Gunnar Heidar Thorvaldsson’s shot lacked enough purchase to trouble Shusaku Nishikawa.

Nishikawa then got down well to hold Smarason’s effort just after Fujimoto had threatened to double Japan’s lead at the other end.

Zaccheroni brought on Kengo Nakamura for Yosuke Kashiwagi and replaced Okubo with Junya Tanaka for the second half, and the move paid off in the 53rd minute when Nakamura released Fujimoto to calmly loft the ball over substitute goalkeeper Gunnleifur Gunnleifson.

“I am pleased that I scored but don’t think I have been delivering results in the previous (10) games that have played in,” said Fujimoto.

Iceland rarely looked like finding a way back into the game, although the home crowd quickly warmed to substitute Steinthor Freyr Thorsteinsson, who drew huge cheers with a series of acrobatic throw-ins.

Makino put the issue to bed when he got hold of Nakamura’s free kick into the box and scrambled past Gunnleifsson but then conceded the penalty that Smarason calmly dispatched.

Iceland was using the friendly as part of its preparations for its qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014.