YOKOHAMA — Japan recovered from a embarrassing first half against India to open its 2007 Asian Cup qualifying campaign with an ultimately convincing 6-0 win at Nissan Stadium on Wednesday.
Urawa Reds’ Shinji Ono scored Japan’s 100th goal under coach Zico to open the scoring in the 32nd minute, but that was to be the only goal in an opening period marred by misplaced passes, over elaboration and poor finishing against a Group A rival ranked 100 places below the home side in the world rankings.
For the second game running, though, it was a more measured display from Japan the other side of halftime, with two goals for Tatsuhiko Kubo and one each for Seiichiro Maki, Takashi Fukunishi and Hisato Sato adding respectability to the final score.
“We were a bit stiff in the first half and were unable to build momentum,” Japan coach Zico said. “We were able to battle well after the break, though.”
Ono capitalized on a poor headed backpass from defender Mahesh Gawli to steer the ball past ‘keeper Sandip Nandy from close range and score his 6th goal for Japan, his last coming in a 4-0 away win over India in September 2004.
“I really wanted to score the 100th goal for Zico,” the 26-year-old Ono said. “It was very important and I’m really glad I scored it.
“I thought we looked a bit tired in the first half but moved well in the second half and it was big win for us.”
The second came on 58 minutes when a neat three-man move ended with a goal-bound Makoto Hasebe shot deflecting off a grateful Maki, wrong-footing the Indian ‘keeper.
Midfielder Hasebe, making his first start for his country, was unlucky not to be credited with the goal, with Maki knowing little of his contribution. Ten minutes later, Alessandro Santos’ inswinging corner was met with a firm header by Fukunishi that flashed into the net. Kubo went close three minutes later when his point blank shot crashed against the post, but the Yokohama F. Marinos forward made amends on 79 minutes when he exchanged passes with Sato before lofting a delicate lob over Nandy.
Sato fired in his first goal for Japan on 83 minutes, with a well-executed turn and shot on the edge of the area and Kubo scored his second and finished the scoring in injury time when he crashed in a left-foot shot from inside the area.
The second half goalfest simply papered up the cracks for Japan, as it was once more almost unbearable to watch in the opening 45 minutes. Japan’s players were guilty on numerous occasions of passing the ball to death in their approach play.
Only Mitsuo Ogasawara, perhaps buoyed by his astonishing goal from inside his own half against Finland at the weekend, was willing to test the ‘keeper from long range, going close with strikes either side of halftime.
The Boys in Blue showed just one flash of their superiority over their opponent in the opening period when staccato-like passing among the midfield opened up Ogasawara early on, but the midfielder shot weakly at the ‘keeper.
India gave Japan a jolt soon after when captain Bhaichung Bhutia flashed a 30-meter free-kick just past the post of Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, but that was to be the visitor’s only chance of the game.
The cricket-mad country emerged with its pride intact.
“We gave 100 percent right from the start,” India coach Syed Naeemuddin said. “Our defense had an immense responsibility, but the first goal made all the difference and the game turned from there.”
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