YOKOHAMA — Seiichiro Maki broke his scoring duck and Naohiro Takahara continued his rich vein of form with another goal as Japan beat Peru 2-0 in a friendly at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday evening before 60,400.
JEF United Chiba striker Maki scored on 19 minutes, his first goal since September, meeting a Shunsuke Nakamura free-kick from the left with a powerful header.
Takahara, who can’t stop scoring for his club Eintracht Frankfurt, doubled the lead on 54 minutes when he expertly controlled Nakamura’s free-kick, again from the left, turned and crashed the ball home.
In Japan’s first game of the year, and on a night when ‘keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi earned his 100th cap, Ivica Osim’s men controlled the match throughout and had two chances to make it 3-0 at the death, but Marcus Tulio Tanaka saw his header bounce back off the bar and substitute Jungo Fujimoto’s free-kick flew centimeters over the bar.
“This is just the beginning,” said Takahara. “It’s the first game and we can only expect things to get better.”
Said Nakamura: “I was happy to represent the team. It was nice to be able to play wearing the uniform again.” Nakamura and Takahara were playing their first games under Osim.
Surprisingly, the Japan coach wasn’t happy with the game.
“I don’t think we played that well; the players were very nervous throughout,” said Osim. “If Peru had all their best players, we would not have been able to win, and that is a fact.”
The opening goal came on the first chance of the game. The industry of Takahara, toiling away with good effect throughout the first half, was rewarded when the forward won a free-kick after his surging run down the left was stopped by foul means.
Nakamura stepped up to curl in a perfect free-kick and Maki connected with a towering header from whites-of-the-eyes range that gave ‘keeper Juan Flores no chance.
It was Maki’s fourth goal for Japan but first since last May when he scored in the 2-1 loss to Bulgaria in the Kirin Cup.
The goal also was Maki’s first for either Japan or JEF since last September, and it was soon obvious that a huge burden had been lifted off the striker’s shoulders. This was perfectly illustrated when he picked up the ball in the center circle moments after the goal, turned and ran at a cowering Peru defense, much like the Maki of one year ago.
Maki wasn’t the only stand out. Nakamura was conducting play in his usual elegant, languid style, spraying passes left and right and bringing others into the game. The Celtic playmaker nearly doubled the lead later in the first half with a free-kick from 40 meters, choosing to blast the ball instead of curling it, but the effort flew a meter over the bar.
Nakamura assumed the role of creator for the second goal, too, with another curled in free-kick from the left. His delivery this time wasn’t the best, but Takahara brought the ball down brilliantly, turned and smashed the ball home from four meters. It was 27-year-old Takahara’s 18th goal for Japan.
Time and again in the second half, Takahara collected the ball, turned and ran at the Peru defense, much like Maki did in the first half, and Japan possessed a palpable attacking threat.
The Maki-Takahara partnership has a lot of potential.
With the game easily won, it petered out somewhat as Osim began to chop and change his lineup. Maki departed to allow Albirex Niigata’s Kisho Yano to win his first cap. Nakamura also left the field late to generous applause, Yokohama’s favorite footballing son replaced by Fujimoto.
At the other end, Kawaguchi celebrated his 100th cap in leisurely fashion, the Jubilo Iwata ‘keeper having almost nothing to do.
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