TOYOTA, AICHI PREF. – Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan suffered its first ever home defeat as the Asian champions went down 1-0 at the hands of Uzbekistan in a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday night.
Aleksandr Shadrin scored the lone goal of the game in the second half for an Uzbekistan team that was without five suspended players, including Asian Player of the Year Server Djeparov.
The Uzbeks finished the third qualifying round on top of Group C, ahead of Japan by six points. Both teams had already qualified for the final round, which begins in June. The final draw is on March 9.
“We controlled the first half but Uzbekistan came at us after the break,” said Zaccheroni. It might have been different if we had taken our chances in the first half but all credit to Uzbekistan, they are a good team.
“In three months we have the final round of qualifiers and all we can do is try and prepare as best we can.”
Captain Makoto Hasebe added, “We have been beaten and just have to accept this and move on. It was a difficult game. We couldn’t take our chances and they took the only real chance they had.”
Nagoya native Ryo Miyaichi, the 19-year-old winger for Bolton Wanderers, drew the biggest pregame cheers from the sellout crowd at Toyota Stadium in anticipation of his Japan debut, despite starting — and finishing — on the bench for Japan’s second match of 2012.
The Blue Samurai tried to pick up where they left off in last Friday’s 3-1 win over Iceland in Osaka, but fired only blanks in the opening half.
Shinji Okazaki had a clear view of the target in the 22nd minute when Shinji Kagawa, getting a rare game in the hole behind Mike Havenaar, set him up inside the area.
Okazaki’s left-footed effort, however, came off the bar as the Stuttgart striker missed out on what would have been his 27th international goal.
Three minutes later, Yuto Nagatomo raced up the left wing for a good 50 meters before slipping a diagonal ball into the box for Havenaar, who fully extended but fell a couple of inches short.
Japan was punished for failing to capitalize after halftime as the visitors broke the deadlock in the 54th minute.
Uzbekistan managed to hit Japan on the break, unleashing Jasur Khasanov down the right before crossing for Bakhodir Nasimov by the far post.
Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima kept out Nasimov’s diving header from point-blank range, but Shadrin was in the right place at the right time, pouncing on the deflection to find the net.
Zaccheroni turned to his subs on the hour, first throwing on Bochum midfielder Takashi Inui for Jungo Fujimoto and later sitting Havenaar for Southampton striker Tadanari Lee.
The 42,720 fans were praying Miyaichi would be the third and final card Zaccheroni would play, but instead it was World Cup culprit Yuichi Komano who replaced Nagatomo.
Socceroos rally for win
Australia ended Saudi Arabia’s World Cup qualifying campaign with a burst of three second-half goals in four minutes in a comeback 4-2 win on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia entered the game in second place in Group D, but the defeat, combined with Oman’s 2-0 victory over Thailand, meant it dropped down to third while Oman progressed to the fourth round of Asian qualifying.