It was the late, late show from Japan once again on Wednesday night as substitute Daisuke Matsui powered in a last-minute header to give Japan a 1-0 win over fellow World Cup qualifier Angola in a friendly at Tokyo’s National Stadium.
Japan has made it a habit in recent times to leave it until the last throes of a match to clinch victory and this was no different, as Atsushi Yanagisawa met an arching right-wing cross from Shunsuke Nakamura in the 90th minute and cushioned a header across the goal into the path of a grateful Matsui.
Matsui played down the last-gasp strike after the match.
“It was a lucky goal and I appreciate that I got it,” the 24-year-old, who plays for France’s Le Mans, said.
With Angola one of four African nations heading to the 2006 finals in Germany, Zico valued the chance to test his troops against this type of opposition.
“What I asked was not just for the right outcome but also quality — quality that sparks the team for next year,” Zico said.
Japan finishes its year of international matches with 11 wins, six losses and three draws.
“We still have things to improve. For example, in the Confederations Cup (in June) we couldn’t advance all the way,” Zico said.
“But I don’t think it is a lack of skill, we still lack mental strength.”
Angola coach Luis de Oliveira Goncalves believes Japan should be a tough team to break down in the finals.
“We played under pressure for all 90 minutes. We had studied Japan well before the game,” he said.
“We know they played well against Brazil in the Confederations Cup (in June). We played a good game against a good team.”
It looked as though Japan would be left to rue a string of missed chances in the first half, with Naohiro Takahara twice hitting the woodwork.
The Boys in Blue’s bright opening warmed up the chilly 52,406 crowd, with the Angolans chasing the shadows of Brit-based midfield trio Hidetoshi Nakata, Junichi Inamoto and Nakamura playing in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation.
Three chances came in the sixth minute alone.
Naohiro Takahara exquisitely controlled an Alex Santos cross on the chest and blazed over from close range, before Nakamura and Santos both went close with angled drives.
Takahara then met a Nakamura free-kick with a firm header only to see the ball cannon off the bar.
Japan was relentless in its attack and again went close when Nakata pulled the ball back for Yanagisawa, but the 28-year-old fired a weak shot against Angola ‘keeper Joao Ricardo’s legs.
Japan’s overwhelming superiority was the catalyst for nattily dressed Angola coach Goncalves to spring up from his bench to bark orders to his charges.
Markedly different was Zico’s demeanor, the relaxed Brazilian content to see his team create chance after chance. But a goal was still lacking.
Japan went close to getting that goal in spectacular style when Santos’ whipped-in cross was met with Takahara scissor-kick from 8 meters out, but the ball crashed against the bar to the Hamburg SV star’s dismay.
Angola’s first real chance came immediately after, but playmaker Figueiredo fluffed his free-kick from 20 meters out.
The crowd’s repeated “Yanagisawa” chants had failed to stir the Messina man into action up to the tail end of the first half, but the encouragement finally got through to him when he opened up play with a clever dummy before receiving the ball back and testing Joao Ricardo with a rising drive.
With a resurgent Angola doing more to prove it is worthy World Cup material with a spirited second-half performance, Japan was limited to half chances on the break.
One in particular caused concern when Inamoto — his shock of blond hair doing more to make him stand out than his overall actual performance — broke with purpose, although after his good work the attack fizzled out.
And besides Yanagisawa hitting the ‘keeper’s legs after expertly controlling a high cross with 6 minutes to go, and an Edson turn and shoot that went close at the other end, the match, too, had appeared to lose its fizz.
That is, until super sub Matsui rushed in to steal the game at the death and give Japan a winning finish to the calendar year.