YOKOHAMA — Bayern Munich midfielder Michael Ballack gave the 61,805 fans who braved the cold at Yokohama International Stadium on Thursday, something to remember as Germany beat Japan 3-0 in the home team’s last game of a busy 2004.
Stadium Yokohama. Germany won 3-0
One superb goal and a couple of blistering free-kicks — one of which resulted in the first of Miroslav Klose’s two goals and the other which forced a good save by Seigo Narazaki — proved to be the difference as Germany started its three-game Asian tour on a winning note.
Zico’s team had played 21 games this year, winning 17, drawing two and suffering just two losses but rarely had it faced a side the caliber of Germany, beaten finalist at the last World Cup.
The Germans who have undertaken the tour during the Bundesliga’s winter break could have been forgiven if they had thought they were back in Hamburg such were the cold and blustery conditions.
After a fairly tepid start, the game started to liven up in the 15th minute when Fabian Ernst fed Klose, whose cross from the right found Ballack just outside the six-yard box. The German captain was first denied by a good save by Narazaki and then had his followup shot cleared off the line by Mitsuo Ogasawara.
Two minutes later it was Alessandro Santos who saved Japan, clearing off the line after Gerald Asamoah had connected with a cheeky backheel from a corner.
But it wasn’t just one-way traffic.
Santos (23rd minute) and Akira Kaji (27th) both used their pace to get in behind the German defense, on the left and right flanks, respectively, and put in telling crosses.
But Per Mertesacker was too big and too strong in the first instance, and Oliver Kahn well positioned in the second, to deny SV Hamburg striker Naohiro Takahara the chance to score a goal against the players he plays against week-in and week-out.
But Takahara did himself no favors — and got a talking to from referee Mark Shield — in the 39th minute when he needlessly dived in the box after Kaji had once again made a telling run down the right wing.
With no goals in the first 45 minutes, the halftime break gave both teams the chance to warm up and it was Japan that started the second half the brightest.
In the 48th minute, Ogasawara fed Santos on the edge of the penalty box and the Urawa Reds defender’s fierce shot veered off a defender for a corner.
The game may have been a friendly — Germany’s thank-you for the support given in its bid to host the 2006 World cup — but the tackles were going in thick and fast.
From one rash challenge in the 52nd minute, Makoto Tanaka was shown the yellow card and from the resulting free-kick, Germany got the scoreboard ticking over.
Ballack’s free-kick from 30 meters out looked to be going wide, but Narazaki, perhaps unaware of where his right-hand post was, parried the ball into the path of Klose who slipped the ball over the prone goalkeeper.
Seven minutes later Narazaki made amends with a good save from Klose as the Germans looked to take control of the game, and Bastian Schweinsteiger was unlucky not to increase their lead in the 64th minute when he showed great skill in controlling the ball on the edge of the box, before curling a shot just over the bar.
It took skipper Ballack to show his Bayern Munich teammate how to do it in the 68th minute.
Asamoah broke from deep in his own half and offloaded to the German captain, who took his time to size up the situation, before putting in a sublime shot from 25 meters out that gave Narazaki no chance.
Ballack almost added a second in the 78th minute but his thunderbolt was tipped over the bar by Narazaki.
Japan didn’t go down without a fight.
Tanaka went close with a header in the 76th minute and four minutes later Santos was denied by an acrobatic Kahn, but a second goal from Klose in injury time was simply the icing on the cake for Germany, which was a worthy winner on the night.
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