• Kyodo


Japan’s Tokyo Olympic hopefuls struck back against their Argentine counterparts with an emphatic 3-0 win Monday, three days after losing the first of their two under-24 friendlies 1-0.

Late call-up Daichi Hayashi buried the opener on the stroke of halftime before captain Ko Itakura headed home two corners in the second half in an all-round display from the hosts at Kitakyushu Stadium in Fukuoka Prefecture.

Japan made nine changes from their defeat on Friday in Tokyo with only two players retaining their berths, Takefusa Kubo in his No. 10 role and Itakura moving up into a two-man defensive midfield.

Japan made a much brighter start on this occasion, leaving Argentina visibly frustrated by their lack of possession with not a shot registered in the first half before the hosts grabbed the opener in the 45th minute.

Cerezo Osaka center-back Ayumu Seko, the young player of the year last season in the J-League, provided an incisive aerial pass in behind the visitors’ backline for Hayashi, who took it down with great control before slotting past keeper Jeremias Ledesma.

Hayashi, who has three goals from six J1 games this term for Sagan Tosu, was called up only after injured Ritsu Doan of Arminia Bielefeld pulled out.

“I received a great ball from Ayumu. The team was passing it around well and it was my responsibility to score,” said the forward.

After the break, Argentina brought on Matias Vargas and Fernando Valenzuela, who tormented the Japanese defense in the first game, but hosts held firm and could have doubled their lead on another counter when lively Yuki Soma hit the post with a low drive after a pass from Kubo.

Argentina finally had their first shot of the match when Benevento’s giant forward Adolfo Gaich, who headed in the winner in the first match, saw his fierce low drive from outside the box denied by keeper Kosei Tani in the 64th minute.

Japan doubled their lead as Itakura rose highest to nod in Kubo’s corner from the left in the 68th minute, and soon after the visibly frustrated Argentina manager, Fernando Batista, was shown a yellow card. Kubo again set up the Groningen midfielder from a corner for Japan’s third to put the tie to bed.

“I said we’ll look to avenge the defeat after the first game and I’m glad to have actually done so,” said Kubo, currently at Getafe. “We knew how they were going to play this time so we could have good communication and our plan clicked.”

“I hope Itakura enjoyed it as I don’t think he’ll score two goals again,” joked Kubo.

Japan are scheduled to play four more friendlies from June, capped off by a meeting with Spain on July 17, before the Tokyo Olympics.

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