AINO, Shizuoka Pref. — A confident Japan team cruised past Australia 3-0 Wednesday at Shizuoka’s Ecopa Stadium to take the inaugural AFC/OFC Challenge Cup between the champions of Asia and Oceania.
Goals from Atsushi Yanagisawa, Toshihiro Hattori and Masashi Nakayama delighted the 46,404 fans watching the first international match at the new World Cup stadium.
On a hot and humid night, Australia found it difficult to match the fitness and finesse of the Japanese players and rarely looked liked breaking down the excellent defensive trio of Naoki Matsuda, Ryuzo Morioka and Koji Nakata.
“Japan were very strong,” Australian coach Frank Farina noted afterward. “Their fitness levels were much higher than our players, they moved the ball very quickly and their movement off the ball was superb — that comes from their fitness levels.”
Japan coach Philippe Troussier tried to play up the significance of the match. “It was very important to win this first AFC/OFC cup and it was an honor for us to be the first to represent Asia in this competition,” he stated.
Troussier’s words could not disguise the fact that it was an Australian team without many of its top players and a team that struggled to cope with the muggy conditions.
That said, Japan was also without several top players, including Shinji Ono, Hidetoshi Nakata and Naohiro Takahara, and the players who did turn out played a tight game and managed to stifle any creativity the Australians may have been hiding.
However, the Australians did cause a few problems early on and could have gone ahead as early as the seventh minute when David Zdrilic broke free but couldn’t steer his shot past Japan keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi.
Australian defender Steve Horvat denied Yanagisawa a chance soon after, but a defensive lapse by his colleague Stephen Laybutt in the 19th minute helped turn the tide Japan’s way.
Matsuda played a great ball down the right under pressure, enabling Hiroaki Morishima to spin past Horvat and cut the ball back to Yanagisawa who slotted home from 7 meters.
Yasuhiro Hato nearly made it 2-0 with a cracking shot from the right corner of the penalty area that Aussie keeper Jason Petkovic tipped against a post and Yanagisawa completed a lively first half by going close with a couple of difficult half-chances.
The second half belonged entirely to Japan and the home side went further ahead after just eight minutes of the half when Hattori burst forward and played a 1-2 with Yanagisawa before curling a right-foot shot in off the right post to make the score 2-0.
After Morishima failed to get on the end of a good ball from Suzuki, the blond bomber from Kashima (Suzuki) crashed a brilliant free-kick against the Australians’ crossbar.
Then with just under half an hour left, Fausto de Amicis was adjudged to have fouled Yanagisawa as the Kashima striker attempted a difficult shot. Penalty, said the referee.
While Yanagisawa might have thought it was his to take, Troussier decided to play to his audience (perhaps he was overly impressed with the “I love Troussier” banner opposite the Japanese bench).
With Masashi “The Human Pinball” Nakayama ready to come on, Troussier yanked Yanagisawa off and told the Jubilo star to take the penalty, which he blasted home to run the score up to 3-0.
“I think that Nakayama is a symbol of Japanese football,” the Frenchman explained. “I thought it was wonderful that the penalty came just as Nakayama was ready to come on. I thought it was an important moment. I saw the light and thought it was Nakayama’s chance.
“It doesn’t mean that I didn’t want Yanagisawa to take it. I told him it was an opportunity for me to give to Nakayama and I think he understood that.”
When asked if he thought he might have hurt Yanagisawa’s feelings, Troussier retorted: “If he’s not happy, that’s not my problem. Football is not a game for boys, it’s a game for professionals. It’s a serious job and the players get paid for that. I can’t be disturbed with the sentiments of each one.”
Yanagisawa said he didn’t realize what was going on at first. “I thought the bench was telling me to take the kick. Then I realized the signals were that Gon-san (Nakayama) was coming on. The supporters were eager for him to take the kick, so I wasn’t disappointed.”
As the game dragged out to its inevitable conclusion, the Australians managed two good chances. A sweeping move upfield was halted with a fabulous tackle from S-Pulse defender Ryuzo Morioka, while Kasey Wehrman fluffed a golden opportunity with a free header from 5 meters out.
But by then, the game had already been decided. All it required was for the visitors to try and kick a few more lumps out of Suzuki and for the victors to hold on for a well-deserved victory.
Japan — Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, Toshihiro Hattori, Ryuzo Morioka, Yasuhiro Hato (73, Tomokazu Myojin), Naoki Matsuda, Koji Nakata, Hiroaki Morishima (81, Daisuke Oku), Teruyoshi Ito, Kazuyuki Toda, Takayuki Suzuki, Atsushi Yanagisawa (64, Masashi Nakayama).
Australia — Jason Petkovic, Luke Casserly, Steve Horvat, Stephen Laybutt (60, Angelo Costanzo), Fausto de Amicis, Mark Robertson (45, Con Boutsianis), Scott Chipperfield, Kasey Wehrman, Steve Corica, John Aloisi (68, Sasho Petrovski), David Zdrilic