SEOUL – Urawa Reds striker Yuichiro Nagai came off the bench to score a last-gasp winner on his national team debut as a below-strength Japan shocked 2002 World Cup co-hosts South Korea 1-0 in a friendly here Wednesday.
South Korea, also missing a number of key players, dominated for long periods of the game at Seoul World Cup stadium but came undone as Nagai, a late callup to the squad, popped up with the winner against the run of play to give Zico his first win in four games since taking over as coach.
“A wonderful match,” Zico said. “Both teams fought hard and I wouldn’t have been a surprise if South Korea had stolen it. But we’re improving all the time at the back and there was good balance in the middle of the park.”
It was Japan’s 12th win in 62 matches against South Korea. They have lost to last summer’s World Cup semifinalists 35 times with the remaining 15 games ending in draws.
The victory was also Japan’s first over their Asian neighbors since their 2-1 win in the Dynasty Cup in Yokohama on March 1, 1998.
South Korea came close to drawing first blood in the eighth minute through Ahn Jung Hwan as the Shimizu S-Pulse pinup cut in from the left but saw his fierce shot fizz just wide of Seigo Narazaki’s left-hand post.
Japan refused to be intimidated by the fiercely partisan crowd of nearly 65,000 and just after veteran striker Masashi Nakayama had a goal ruled out for offside, Mitsuo Ogasawara’s exquisite lob on 16 minutes missed the target by a whisker.
South Korea increased the pressure on Zico’s men as the half wore on and Lee Chun Soo set himself up with a clever overhead kick that fooled Ryuzo Morioka and Toshihiro Hattori only for the resulting shot to cannon of the post.
Japan was forced to play much of the second period in their own half, with Hwan, Lee and Lee Dong Gook keeping Narazaki on his toes, although Nakayama should have given the visitors the lead against the run of play in the 63rd minute.
Kashima Antlers wing back Akira Narahashi put Nakayama clean through from the right but the veteran Jubilo Iwata striker blazed wastefully over the bar.
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