South Korea avenged a 1-0 home defeat to Japan in April by the same scoreline at a rain-swept National Stadium on Saturday.
Ironically it was Japan-based, second-half substitute Ahn Jung Hwan who banged in the deserved winner in the 86th minute after a mistake by Yutaka Akita.
The deadlock was broken when Akita misplaced a pass upfield straight to South Korea which took advantage of the space vacated by him, sending the ball to midfielder Lee Eul Yong down the left wing. Lee sent in a low cross that evaded the inrushing Japanese defense, allowing Ahn to stab the ball home from close range.
Japan coach Zico will be disappointed with his team’s performance particularly in the second half when South Korea took complete control of the game and created a number of half chances.
“Conditions were pretty slippery although both teams played a hard game,” said Zico. “In the first half we played well and were satisfied with our performance. However, in the second half we did not play very well and created very few chances.
“One thing that we were hoping to avoid was to concede a goal on the counter but unfortunately this is exactly what we did.”
Although Japan was missing a number of regulars — most notably captain Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura, Shinji Ono and Naohiro Takahara — its failure to create any chances of note in the second half was alarming, as was its lack of cohesion between midfield and attack.
Junichi Inamoto tackled hard in midfield winning his share of the ball and Masashi Nakayama, captain in Nakata’s absence, was full of running as always while starved of any quality chances.
A poor first-half void of any significant drama was dominated by a midfield battle, with both sides struggling to impose themselves on the game on the slippery surface.
As fighting broke out in the stands between the passionate fans of these two bitter rivals, there was no shortage of commitment from the players on the field.
The closest the first half came to producing a goal came in the 17th minute when forward Takayuki Suzuki cracked a volley from outside the box that Korean goalkeeper Lee Won Jae only managed to palm behind for a corner.
The game livened up in the second half as Korea picked up the pace. It was unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty in the 67th minute when its outstanding captain Yoo Sang Chui appeared to be dragged down in the box but the referee waved play on.
With the substitution of Inamoto for Yasushito Endo, Japan appeared to lose its shape in midfield and Korea used this opportunity to increase the pressure. In this regard, Mitsuo Ogasawara was disappointing, missing the chance to stake a claim for a regular berth in Japan’s competitive midfield.
Korea’s Portuguese coach Humberto Coelho was understandably happy with his team’s performance.
“Although it was a difficult game, our players concentrated hard and put in a strong effort. After the game in Seoul we didn’t want to be defeated again and the team has improved drastically since April in both skill and tactically,” Coelho explained.
“We focused on two points, improving our defense and improving our ball control. With these we were able to control the game.”
While Japan will have a lot to work on ahead of the Kirin Cup and the Confederations Cup, Zico remained philosophical in defeat.
“We are looking forward to the Confederations Cup and we hope to improve some of our faults before then. We didn’t create enough goalscoring opportunities and we didn’t shoot for goal enough. Our midfield also made too many mistakes under pressure from the Koreans.”
“We will improve and this defeat is not the end of the world.”
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