YOKOHAMA — Japan won the 2004 Kirin Cup at International Stadium Yokohama on Tuesday night with an uninspiring 1-0 victory over Serbia and Montenegro.
A well-taken goal in the 48th minute by Yasuhito Endo was enough to separate the sides who had both comfortably disposed of Slovakia earlier in the competition.
“We deserved to win this tournament. The players showed real reserves of strength against very tough opposition,” Japan coach Zico said after the game.
“Everybody did their jobs and now we have to take this form to the Asian Cup.”
The first half dished up little for the crowd of 57,616 to get excited about apart from how many times striker Takayuki Suzuki would hit the deck with the stiff breeze dominating proceedings — the official Suzuki “fall-o-meter” stood at 13 by match end.
Still, Japan — fielding a largely understrength side — opened brightly, creating a number of half chances in the opening 10 minutes against the unsettled Serbs. Tamada was the first to have a crack with a woeful header from five meters out that rivaled David Beckham’s Euro 2004 penalty, such was the distance by which it managed to clear the crossbar.
Serbia was the physically superior side and started to muscle its way into the game midway through the first half with Japan right back Makoto Tanaka allowing forward Danko Lazovic an alarming amount of space down the left flank.
Such generosity almost resulted in an early goal for Serbia as Lazovic was left to race on goal unattended before firing in a low cross that evaded all.
For Japan, Tamada, eager to atone for his opening miss, began to show some lively touches up front, none more so than a fierce first-time volley off a Shunsuke Nakamura free-kick that was well saved by Serbian goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric.
Endo’s goal immediately awakened the game from its slumber, the halftime break being one of the more memorable moments until then. A through ball from a crowded midfield by Takahashi Fukunishi was expertly touched on by Suzuki to find Tamada in a good position inside the box. Endo composed himself before wrongfooting the ‘keeper and slotting home into an empty net.
Ten minutes later, Serbia and Montenegro should have equalized after Savo Milosevic teed up Milos Maric just outside the box. The chance was wasted as the midfielder sliced his shot way wide of the post.
With time running out, Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi saved the game with a brilliant one-handed effort to thwart a low shot in the box from Maric. Kawaguchi, his confidence seemingly restored, had a very tidy game between the sticks it must be said.
All that was left was for Alessandro Santos to drill a trademark left-foot free-kick against the upright deep into injury time.
“It was a tough game to the final whistle. Our players did not forget to play their own style of soccer,” Zico said. “Every player knew what to do and played his role properly as part of a unit.”
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