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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Venezuela Earn Comfortable Draw Against Rusty Japan

The Kobe Samurai over at www.jsoccer.com beems in a report on Japan's game against mighty Venezuela. 

Japan 0-0 Venezuela  -  Kirin Challenge Cup, Feb. 2nd, 2010


Japan kick off a new year of football against South American opponents as they take on Venezuela tonight. Many expected Hirayama to get a start, especially with Tamada under the weather, and Ogasawara to get his first start in three years or so. Well, we got Oga, we didn't get Hira -
Okubo and Okazaki starting up front ....  read on for the starting line-up and as-it-went match report!

Narazaki returned in goal, after his injury lay-off. I think, barring injury we will be seeing the Nagoya keeper between the posts in South Africa. Nothing coming up looking likely to displace him as yet. Centre backs, Tulio - newly-signed to Nagoya, and captain Nakazawa - another guaranteed starter in South Africa? Probable starting right back Uchida was out sick, giving a chance at the right back sport. His FC Tokyo team mate Nagatomo trying to make the left back spot his own. The midfield
was interesting - Inamoto - newly-signed bargain for Kawasaki Frontale held the defensive spots with Endo. Ogasawara and Kengo Nakamura the more attacking duo in the midfield four. The aforementioned Okubo and Okazaki up top. Okubo, Inamoto and Ogasawara hoping to cement World Cup spots in the next few months .... Okazaki, Endo and Nakamura (both of them!) are probably already pencilled in and have their seats reserved!

The bench appeared to contain another 11 or 12 options and we may well see most of them by the end of the game .... plenty of youth there ready to put in a claim for a place, including Hirayama (FC Tokyo), Inui, Kagawa (both Cerezo), Kanazaki (Nagoya), Ishikawa - also back from a lay-off, and Muramatsu (Bellmare), who missed his chance in the young team out out against Yemen through illness.

So, onto the game ....

A quiet, uninspired start by both teams was jolted out of its stupor in the 16th minute when Ogasawara let fly from 25  yards out, forcing a smart save to his left  from the Venezuelan keeper. Soon after Okubo
headed on a goal kick to Okazaki, who fed Nakamura in a promising position but his left foot shot was scuffed off-target.

In the 27th minute Venezuela another promising position with the ball going straight out of play for the second time free kick in a row, Tulio and Nakazawa not having been tested except for one weak cross and header into the arms of Narazaki early in the game. A minute later, Okubo earned a corner, quickly taken short by Nakamura to Okubo, who crossed nicely for Ogasawara sneaking in past the defence, but the Antlers midfielder's completely missed what seemed an easy header from a few
yards out.

In the 32nd Venezuela had a free kick, inswinging from the left that was headed clear by Inamoto, although most of the crowd and the referee thught it was an attacking header!

Then Okazaki raced onto a bouncing ball and tried to chip the outcoming keeper, who got a hand to it, the ball falling to Okubo who nipped around the keeper but stumbled as he tried to control the ball and the chance was lost.

The game settled back into stagnation until the 41st minute, when Okubo latched on to a wall pass and tried to slip between three defenders and fell heavily. Endo or Ogasawara? Nakamura also hung round, and Tulio and Nagatomo joined the discussion before Endo hit it tamely against the
wall!

A minute later, a long cross from the right found Tulio still up in the area. The Nagoya centre back chested it and hit a speculative overhead kick that the crowd enjoyed, although, in reality it almost went out for a throw-in! The game was crying out for some magic, a few good passes strung together or a quick break from a full back, finished with a super cross, to enliven a dull first half. We were going to have to wait a bit longer, though. In the last few seconds we were treated to Nakazawa -
one centre back - crossing from the right to Tulio, the other centre back at the far post. But the ball was too high. Half time 0-0, and not a lot to write home about! I wonder who will be asked to liven this up.

Um... in a word .... uninspiring! Let's see what transpires in the 2nd half!

The 2nd half began with the same 11 being given a chance to wake this game up before the expected multiple changes. I'd like to see Kagawa given his shot, as well as Hirayama to feed off him.

The half didn't start well as Tulio gave the ball away on an aimless, inaccurate long ball after 20 seconds! Here's hoping we see an improvement on that! The numerous empty seats in the stadium - an unusual occurrence at any national team game - won't be filled for the upcoming Asian Championship games if this is what we can expect! But Okubo woke the quiet crowd up in the 47th with a speculative, but unexpected shot from 25 yards out that hit the side netting ....  a moment later, Ogasawara sent in a low blast that stung the keeper's hands. And then the game exploded into life for a few seconds - although
in the wrong way - as Tulio raised his arm as he went for a header, well before the ball came. His opposite number had a little go back and the hot-headed centre-back over-reacted and earned a yellow card, giving away a free kick in a dangerous area. needless to say, in keeping with Venezuela's set-pieces so far, the free kick came to nothing.

Tulio could take a leaf out of Nagatomo's book. In the 53rd a Venezuelan player went tumbling and rolling into the FC Tokyo left back, who just left his foot in the way and the foolish South American went into it, getting straight up - miraculously, considering he'd just been rolling around - and stood up to Nagatomo. Nagatomo just puffed his chest out and stared back as another opposition player barged him from behind. The Japanese back barely batted an eyelid as he was battered between the to players, not falling for the over-acting or baiting of the opposition AT ALL!

Unfortunately, this argy bargy was about all the excitement we were getting so far as the game approached the hour mark. And... finally, changes. Tokunaga made way for Komano - who has proved to change games at times, and Nakamura was replaced by Hirayama for his 2nd start and the biggest cheer of the night so far. Averaging three goals per game (!) in his full national team career so far, could the lanky FC Tokyo forward continue his hot streak!? Okubo dropped back into midfield to accommodate Hirayama and it was those two that combined moments later as Okubo twisted past a defender on the left and got in a right foot cross for Hirayama to get on the end of - but not this time. The crowd was noticeably louder, though!

Hello to my Venezuelan visitor reading this report! Sorry to have to say that your team haven't impressed at all, yet! But then again, neither has Japan ...  ten shots for Japan have brought  few saves, three shots
from Venezuela have not troubled Narazaki.

On 66 minutes Venezuela replaced their 17 year old debutant - no.7  with no.9 London. The
no.7 had run around and not seemed short of confidence, but had not been given any service.

In the 70th, Inamoto advanced down the left and his cross turned into a shot that had the keeper scrambling to tip the ball over the bar for a corner. Japan's 4th corner of the game didn't even clear the first defender as Ogasawara messed it up. A minute later, though, and it was Okubo again, beating a defender on the left and crossing for Okazaki, but his weak header was wide.

Okubo was getting around and upsetting the right back who earned a yellow card as the Vissel forward had his ankle stamped on, but it was Ogasawara who, again, couldn't even beat the first defender in a
pathetic cross. Seconds later he was deservedly replaced by Kanazaki, and Sato came on for Okazaki as Okada juggled it again! Where is Kagawa is all I have to say? The game is crying out for his flair!

Next Okubo popped up on the right and got between two defenders, but his cross was blocked and came to nought. Okubo's effort today could not be faulted. In the absence of a goal or some fine play in the final 12 minutes or so by someone in blue, we were looking at the MVP - if there was to be one, as Kirin will, as usual desperately milk coverage at the end of the game for their sponsorship!

In the 82nd a Komano cross proved the best chance of the game but Sato scuffed his header from 8 yards out.

Finally, in the 85th minute Kagawa came on, unfortunately it was for the hard-working Okubo, but at least the Cerezo youngster got his chance. This was turning into the kind of game that a few years ago Japan would lose in the final minutes on a lucky goal, but more recently it seems that Japan would be getting the late goals - we'll see!

Kagawa finally got his feet to the ball in the 88th minute and skipped past three Venezuelans, unfortunately he was facing his own goal as he did it. But a moment of brightness from the diminutive Kobe-born midfielder came seconds later as he took a quick free kick and the ball found Hirayama on the edge of the area. The forward skipped past a challenge and seemed to be brought down, but the referee bottled it, giving a handball against the Japanese forward as he fell down on the
ball!

And, just as Japan seemed to be raising the game slightly, the referee blew the final whistle with little or no lost time, despite their being around ten substitutions in the half!?

Ex-Japan international Yamaguchi came rushing on and made for Inamoto for his interview, the newly-minted Kawasaki Frontale player having had a decent, if unspectacular game in what is probably Hasebe's position at the moment! Next up for the microphone treatment came Hirayama ....  I didn't stick around for the Kirin promotion awards!!

129 days to the World Cup and plenty of work to be done!

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