Honda delivers vintage performance in return



Coach Alberto Zaccheroni hailed Keisuke Honda as Japan’s “extra man” after the CSKA Moscow star delivered a typically robust display on his long-awaited return to the team in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in a World Cup qualifying tuneup.

Honda, back with the Asian champions after an injury-enforced nine-month absence, helped set up a cracking opener for Shinji Kagawa three minutes before halftime and created the second for Shinji Okazaki to earn top marks from Zaccheroni.

“I always ask for a bigger contribution from Keisuke because I know he will give it to me,” said the Italian tactician. “Today he was an extra man for every attacking player because he defends well. That’s why Kagawa and Okazaki were able to concentrate on getting forward.”

Honda showed just what Japan has been missing since he hurt his knee last August in a Russian Premier League match, an injury that required surgery and was followed by other setbacks that kept him on the sidelines.

Makoto Hasebe latched onto his flick and sent through Kagawa to open the scoring with a clinical finish and Honda then headed Kagawa’s cross into the path of Okazaki to bundle in and wrap up the scoring in the 58th minute.

“I think once I get used to linking up with the rest of the team I can be of lot more dangerous for our opponents,” said Honda, the driving force as Japan reached the second round of the World Cup for the first time on foreign turf at South Africa 2010.

“I think we will have more chances in the (final round of) World Cup qualifiers (beginning next month) if I have more intensity. Our opponents are also bound to make mistakes.

“We were playing too deep today and we needed to play the ball across the pitch higher up the field. We couldn’t move the ball around in positions that put our opponents under pressure. That is the difference between us and Spain. We don’t have enough variation in our passing patterns.”

Kagawa’s superb finish demonstrated why the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are reportedly lining up to sign him up for what is sure to be a hefty fee from Borussia Dortmund, who, according to German weekly Sport Bild, want ?20 million ($25 million) for the attacking midfielder.

But Arsenal teenager Ryo Miyaichi, who along with Kagawa has been getting plenty of media attention over his future next season, admitted he had stage fright after winning his first cap as a second-half substitute.

“I was a bit nervous. I had the chance to shoot and fell over and wish I had done better,” he said of his first opportunity.

“I didn’t really seize my chance and show what I was really capable of. To be honest the nerves got to me. But this was my debut and it was nice to get a taste of what it is like (with the national team.)”

Japan loses to Turkey

HYERES, France

The Japanese men’s Olympic team got off on the wrong foot at the Toulon Tournament on Wednesday as Takashi Sekizuka’s side was thumped 2-0 by Turkey.

Japan, which will try to medal for the first time in soccer in London since the 1968 Summer Games, was far from inspiring.

Japan’s Under-23s will desperately try to revive their campaign on Friday when they take on the Netherlands. The top two in a group also including Egypt advance to the last four on May 30.

“We had a decent first half, but we let them have their way after halftime,” Sekizuka said. “We needed to come out stronger for the second half, take the fight to them.”