OSAKA — Japan’s first match of this World Cup year ended in success on Thursday as it beat Ukraine 1-0 at Nagai Stadium in Osaka.
Manager Philippe Troussier will no doubt say that you only have to do the minimum necessary — i.e. win — in the World Cup, but the fans and presumably the manager would like more convincing wins than this.
That said, Ukraine were no dummies, starting with seven players who faced Germany in a World Cup playoff, but the experimental side that Troussier started failed to gel in the first half. Things only really came together in the second half with the introduction of class players such as Naohiro Takahara of Jubilo Iwata and Mitsuo Ogasawara of Kashima Antlers.
Troussier opted to start Alex on the left, but after a sprightly first 20 minutes, the Brazilian-born Japanese faded and was replaced by Shunsuke Nakamura at halftime, injury being given as the reason.
Japan took a 1-0 lead into the dressing room at halftime thanks to some nice controlled play after a corner in the 25th minute.
Alex took the corner quickly and played a one-two with Kazuyuki Toda before crossing to the far post for the familiar figure of Koji Nakata to head the ball back in toward Akinori Nishizawa.
Nishizawa’s attempted flick deflected to Atsushi Yanagisawa and with his back to goal, the Kashima Antlers forward held the ball up well and then laid it off to the in-rushing Toda, who fired it home with a first-time shot from 15 meters out.
The Ukrainians showed from the off that they were willing to have a go. With just over a minute on the clock, Andrii Vorobei got goal-side of Naoki Matsuda and headed for goal. Matsuda was just able to do enough to put the Ukrainian off his shot and the ball flew well wide.
Ten minutes later, midfielder Andrii Husin let fly with a classy left-foot volley from 25 meters out on the right and goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki had to keep his wits about him to hold onto the ball.
After that, it was Japan’s turn to show it could attack. In the 13th minute, Husin fouled Yanagisawa and Alex curled a beautiful free-kick that just missed the right-hand post.
Soon after, Yanagisawa turned Olexandr Holovko brilliantly on the right of the box, cut inside and fired off a left-foot shot that went high.
But Ukraine was never out of the game and it required a fine tackle by Daisuke Ichikawa to deny Serhii Zakarliula in the box and on the stroke of halftime Serhii Popov put Vorobei through only to see his shot saved by Narazaki.
Ukraine came out shooting in the second half and were obviously very keen not to go home empty handed. Serhii Shyschenko broke free in the third minute but shot wide, while a few minutes later, Hennadii Zubov beat sub Nakamura and Tsuneyasu Miyamoto in the box but saw his shot trickle past the post.
In the 58th minute, substitute Ogasawara played a fine through ball to his Kashima teammate Yanagisawa but the Antlers striker couldn’t find the goal despite his shot beating the keeper.
In the 62nd minute, Ogasawara glided past Holovko to put himself in scoring position but his shot was too close too the keeper, and in the 65th minute, Toda set up Ogasawara after some fine leadup play from Nakamura and the Kashima midfielder curled a lovely shot just past the post.
With 15 minutes to go, Ichikawa beat his man on the right and sent in a good cross for Takayuki Suzuki, but the Kashima striker couldn’t direct his header on goal.
In the 83rd minute, Takahara won the ball with some great determination in the box to set himself up but the Ukrainian keeper pulled off a fine low save to deny the Jubilo man.
All in all an average performance from the home side before 45,214 fans, but it was an experimental game that will have given Troussier more awareness of what some players can do. Ogasawara had a fine debut, but Alex needs to do more to justify his place.
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