Tatsuhiko Kubo scored the first two goals of his international career to give Japan a 2-0 victory over China on the opening day of the East Asian Football Championship in Tokyo on Thursday evening.
Kubo poked home the first in the fifth minute at National Stadium after a neat through ball from Mitsuo Ogasawara and celebrated his 15th cap by completing a brace with a low drive 10 minutes from time.
Japan, whose win was only its second on home soil under Brazilian coach Zico, joined archrival South Korea on three points after the 2002 World Cup cohosts eased the pressure on under-fire coach Humbert Coelho by beating minnow Hong Kong 3-1 also at National Stadium in the first game of the inaugural tournament.
Fielding a team made up entirely of home-based players, Zico deployed the 3-5-2 formation favored by his predecessor Philippe Troussier for the first time, with Ogasawara doing a fine job in midfield in the absence of Parma playmaker Hidetoshi Nakata, one of several European-based players unavailable due to club commitments.
“We only had three days to prepare for this tournament,” said Zico. “But we expected to win this match. We created many scoring chances and were able to take advantage so it’s a good start for us.”
Ogasawara made his mark early on, dispossessing a Chinese defender and sending Kubo through for the lanky Yokohama F. Marinos striker to toe-poke the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Liu Yunfei for the opener.
The Ogasawara-Kubo hot line nearly produced a second soon after but Singaporean referee Santhan Nagalingam stopped Kubo in his tracks after spotting a handball.
Cerezo Osaka striker Yoshito Okubo should have also opened his national team account and doubled Japan’s advantage but after being put through with a perfectly weighted pass from Ogasawara, hit his shot at Liu from an acute angle on 36 minutes.
Despite some neat buildup play China, which made its debut at last year’s World Cup, was unable to make any inroads in the first half although Japan ‘keeper Seigo Narazaki had to be alert to a dipping header from captain Li Weifeng early on.
Ogasawara continued to torment China after the interval, and Kubo was denied by a combination of Liu and the woodwork twice within the space of two minutes midway through the second half before he rifled home to seal the win.
Earlier, two goals in the space of seven second-half minutes from Kim Do Hoon and Japan-based striker Ahn Jung Hwan put South Korea on its way after Lawrance Akandu had canceled out Kim Do Heon’s opener with a surprise equalizer for Hong Kong 11 minutes before halftime.
The win provided a much-needed confidence boost for the 2002 World Cup semifinalist, which had lost three of its previous four games, including humiliating Asian Cup qualifying defeats by Vietnam and Oman.
“Obviously I’m very happy to make a winning start,” Coelho said. “We didn’t start to really perform until after the interval and with the amount of opportunities we had we could have scored a lot more in the end.”
Jubilo Iwata will not renew the contract of midfielder Aleksandar Zivkovic for next season, officials of the J. League first-division side said Thursday.
The current contract of the 26-year-old from Serbia and Motenegro, who has played four seasons in Japan and scored seven goals in 56 league matches, runs through this month.
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