PARIS – Reggina midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura grabbed a goal in each half to ease the pressure on coach Zico as Japan coasted to a 3-0 victory over New Zealand in the opening game of the Confederations Cup in France on Wednesday.
Nakamura slotted home from an acute angle in the 12th minute before fellow Italian-based midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata struck a superb second in the 65th to put the Asian champion and 2001 Confederations Cup runnerup firmly in control in front of a 36,038 crowd at Stade De France.
Former Yokohama F. Marinos star Nakamura then capitalized on some dreadful defending when he stole in completely unmarked to head home his second goal of the evening 15 minutes from time to give Japan only its second win in eight matches under its Brazilian coach.
“We could have had a couple more goals on the break in the late stages. It’s essential that we score a lot of goals as getting through this group may come down to goal difference,” Zico said.
“That said, it’s our first game and it’s good to come through it safely,” he added.
Japan was walloped 4-1 by Argentina in the Kirin Cup earlier this month, prompting Zico to make wholesale changes for the following match against Paraguay which his side produced a 0-0 draw in Saitama.
“I thought we did well against Paraguay. We played better tonight and we will get even better still,” Zico said.
Determined to put its dismal run of recent results behind, Japan started brightly and Hamburg SV striker Naohiro Takahara set the alarm bells ringing in the New Zealand defense as early as the first minute only to scuff his shot following a weaving solo run.
The pace of striker Yoshito Okubo, called up to the squad in place of injured veteran forward Masashi Nakayama, was a constant headache for the Kiwis and it was the pint size Cerezo Osaka marksman who laid on the opener for Nakamura.
Takahara found Okubo on the right but failed to control the return pass and Nakamura was on hand to squeeze the ball inside goalkeeper Mike Utting’s far post.
Japan’s domination was rewarded with a second as the New Zealand defense stood off captain Nakata and allowed the Parma midfielder to rifle a goal before Nakamura notched his eighth goal in national team colors, stooping to head home a cross from Nobuhisa Yamada’s right-wing cross.
France, the winner over Japan in the 2001 Confederations Cup final, beat Colombia 1-0 on a Thierry Henry’s penalty kick in Wednesday’s late match.
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