2014 FIFA World Cup Qualification: Group B Result and Table

 

Japan departed the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex with three valuable away points, but were very fortunate to leave with a win that leaves them all but assured of a berth at the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals. The Samurai Blue will automatically qualify in the next round of matches provided they beat Jordan away on 26 March, or secure a point and Australia and Oman share the spoils in their qualification game on the same day.

Shinji Okazaki scored the winning goal in the 89th minute, Gotoku Sakai’s burst of acceleration down the left flank allowing him to whip a cross which Yashuhito Endo got a foot to, and the VfB Stuttgart made sure of the finish from two yards. Okazaki’s 29th goal for his country came in his 58th appearance, mirroring precisely the ratio of Hiromi Hara, who sits one place above him in the goalscoring charts for Japan with 38 from 76.

Precisely ten minutes had been played when Fawzi Bashir wasted a glorious opportunity to give the hosts the lead, Japan’s lack of concentration allowing him to ghost in towards the back of the penalty area after Ismail Al Ajmi’s run wasn’t tracked from a quickly taken throw-in, but with goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima going to ground, the Omani midfielder could only direct his shot over the crossbar.

Hiroshi Kiyotake instead put the visitors in front ten minutes later, rifling a left-footed shot into the net after Abdul Al Makhaini diverted Yuto Nagatomo’s cross into his path.

Al Ajmi’s superb header with ten minutes remaining of the first period deserved better, but instead it found the left upright, bouncing against Kawashima and dribbling agonisingly along the goalline until Nagatomo cleared away.

The home side had their reward in the 77th minute, Ahmed Mubarak’s 20-yard free-kick curling under Japan’s defensive wall and beyond the outstretched hand of the Japan goalkeeper. Okazaki would have the last word, however, and Japan now sit eight points of their nearest challengers, undefeated and having conceded just two goals in total.

Oman Oman
Mubarak 77′
1 Japan Japan
Kiyotake 20′
Okazaki 89′
2

(Match played 14 November 2012)

P W D L F A GD Pts
Japan 5 4 1 0 13 2 +11 13
Australia 4 1 2 1 4 4 +0 5
Iraq 5 1 2 2 4 5 -1 5
Oman 5 1 2 2 4 7 -3 5
Jordan 5 1 1 3 4 11 -7 4
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2014 FIFA World Cup Qualification: Group B Result and Table

(Japan eked out a 1-0 victory against Iraq in their 2014 FIFA World Cup – AFC Fourth Round qualification match to remain fully in control at the top of Group B. In their penultimate group match at home, the Samurai Blue welcomed a young Iraq side helmed by former national team coach Zico to the Saitama Stadium, and overcame a tough test to collect all three points. Ryoichi Maeda’s 25th minute header from Shinji Okazaki’s poked cross was the only goal of the fame, a team lacking Shinji Kagawa through injury and Atsuto Uchida, Yasuyuki Konnao and Yuto Nagatomo through suspension left struggling for invention and at times looking unstable in defence. Albert Zaccheroni’s men next meet Oman on 14 November, and victory in Muscat in their final group game of 2012 will all but ensure qualification with three group games still to play)

Japan Japan
Maeda 25′
1 Iraq
0

(Match played 11 September 2012)

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
Japan 4 3 1 0 11 1 +10 10
Jordan 3 1 1 1 3 8 -5 4
Australia 3 0 2 1 2 3 -1 2
Iraq 3 0 2 1 2 3 -1 2
Oman 3 0 2 1 1 4 -3 2

日本 (Japan) 6 ヨルダン (Jordan) 0

(Highlights of all the goals from Japan’s 6-0 demolition of Jordan, a result which puts the Samurai Blue five points clear of the next-placed side in Group B)

A superb display from Japan resulted in a resounding 6-0 victory over Jordan in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Saitama Stadium, Keisuke Honda once more dominating the headlines with a hat-trick but Yasuhito Endo providing an exhibition of the array of passing at his disposal. The Samurai Blue head Group B at the end of Matchday Two following their first competitive win against their guests in normal time, and they could not have hoped for a better outcome as results elsewhere gave them a five point cushion in advance of their fixture against Australia on Tuesday.

In a match that Japan dominated for all but the opening five minutes of the second period, and in which Eiji Kawashima was not called upon until the 41st minute, even in the face of the final scoreline it would be no exaggeration to suggest that goalkeeper and captain Amer Shafia was one of the more able players in an otherwise desperately poor Jordan team. Shafia stood strong in the face of an opening barrage from the home side, a fine save preventing Shinji Okazaki from opening the scoring with a bicycle kick after five minutes following a sublime lofted pass from Makoto Hasebe, then punching clear a deliberate attempt at scoring direct from a corner by Endo, before diving at full-stretch to push a fierce Honda drive behind for a corner.

With minimal support offered to Shafia by his Al-Nashima teammates, however, and in particular the bewildering movement and passing fluency of Japan’s advanced players a level beyond Jordan’s defensive capabilities, resistance could only be sustained until the 18th minute. Honda swung over a corner from the right towards the back post, and rising above Saeed Murjan, Ryoichi Maeda encountered some good fortune as the ball deflected off his shoulder and into the net via the underside of the crossbar.

Three minutes later Honda scored his first of the day, Endo delivering a stunning first-time angled ball into his path forty yards from goal having spotted the CSKA Moscow midfielder’s run, and he skipped across Anas Bani Yaseen before slotting calmly to the right of Shafia for Japan’s second.

Moments of ill-discipline were the least Jordan could afford in trying to cope with such an onslaught, but two bookings in as many minutes saw their numbers reduced to ten with only 27 minutes played. Abdallah Deeb had no cause for complaint, shown his first yellow card for pulling back the effervescent Maeda after nimble footwork had taken him past the midfielder, and then a raised arm across the face of Hasebe as they contested an aerial ball giving South Korean referee Kim Dong-Jin no choice other than to book Deeb for a second time and confirm the dismissal.

Jordan were in disarray, and it came as litttle surprise when goals three and four arrived before half-time. Endo, who combined superbly with Okazaki on a number of occasions, spotted the VfB Stuttgart player alone in space in the right channel, Basem Fat’hi having drifted in-field. Although the defender was able to recover to block Okazaki’s left-footed shot, the ball spun across the six yard box, and Honda was on hand to steer home having continued his run beyond Baha’ Abdul-Rahman at the back post.

Ten minutes before half-time Shinji Kagawa had his reward for his superlative efforts in closing down the Jordanian midfield and the pressing game for which he is renowned. Defending close to his own goalline, Kagawa challenged Ahmed Hayel to win a throw-in for his side. Advaning quickly downfield, Honda carved a ball out to the right-hand side which Hasebe did well to pull back across the face of goal. Although Maeda’s header was half-cleared to the edge of the penalty area via a Shafiah fist, Atsuto Uchida unselfishly rolled the ball across the 18 yard line for the Manchester United-bound forward to fire through the legs of the hapless Khalil Bani Attiah and into the bottom left corner.

As Dong-Jin signalled for the interval, the question was how many more would be added to the scoreline, the visitors not having recorded a single shot in the first 45 minutes, but Japan first had to withstand a spirited start to the second-half as Saeed Murjan, Hayel and Odai Al-Saify all gave some pause for concern and the home side played well within themselves. Nonetheless, any hopes Jordan may have had of making the scoreline more respectable were soon snuffed out, as Maeda’s skill drew a foul from Bani Attiah in the penalty area, and Honda stepped up to seal his hat-trick from the spot, Shafia diving the wrong way.

Substituted to rapturous applause shortly after, Honda took his place on the bench as Kengo Nakamura entered the fray, and Yasuyuki Konno was then withdrawn for Masahiko Inoha with a view to what should be Japan’s most difficult AFC Fourth Round qualification game next week. The Samurai Blue came close to adding to their total on several occasions, Endo once more trying to score directly from a corner, while first Yuzo Kurihara from a header and then Inoha with a low shot saw their efforts cleared off the goalline by Abdul-Rahman. Kagawa caught the outside of the right upright with an attempt from distance late on, and with time running out Kurihara finally put away the sixth, Yuto Nagatomo’s cross to the back post inviting the header from the substitute defender.

Any anxiety for Japan as they head to Brisbane will merely come in the form of centre-back Maya Yoshida, outstanding in partnership with Yasuyuki Konno and whose involvement in the match came to an early end having jarred his leg in a challenge with Abdul-Rahman. Early prognosis suggests damage to knee ligaments, and with Alberto Zaccheroni having confirmed he will play no part in the match against the Socceroos, he has flown back to Japan for treatment. Otherwise the Samurai Blue look in excellent shape and they should be confident of taking a point or more on 12 June, and then await the visit of Iraq in September perhaps already on the brink of qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Japan 6 Jordan 0
Match Statistics Match Statistics
Shots 18 Shots 6
Corners 15 Corners 0
Possession 63% Possession 37%
Goalscorers Min Goalscorers Min
Ryoichi Maeda 18
Keisuke Honda 21, 30, 53 (pen.)
Shinji Kagawa 35
Yuzo Kurihara 89
Substitutes Min Substitutes Min
Maya Yoshida
Yuzo Kurihara
44 Basem Fat’hi
Mohammed Al-Dmeiri
44
Keisuke Honda
Kengo Nakamura
57 Tha’er Bawab
Anas Hijah
58
Yasuyuki Konno
Masahiko Inoha
72 Ahmed Hayel
Shadi Abu Hash’Hash
66
Cautions Min Cautions Min
Makoto Hasebe 72 Abdallah Deeb 25, 27
Khalil Bani Attiah 52
Amer Shafia 64
Sent Off Min Sent Off Min
Abdallah Deeb 27

Japan: 4-2-3-1 (Blue); Jordan: 4-4-1-1 (Grey)

The Press Round-up

(Extended highlights of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup Group B clash between Japan and Jordan, the last occasion in which the two teams met. Maya Yoshida headed an equaliser in stoppage time, cancelling out the 45th minute Abdel Fattah strike which Yoshida diverted past Eiji Kawashima. The Saitama Stadium provides the stage for the second of Japan’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Fourth Round qualification matches on Friday 8 June)

As the Samurai Blue countdown to Friday’s 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification match against Jordan, the Sankei Shimbun provides a note of caution for Japan. Head Coach Adnan Hamad guided Al-Nashama to a 1-1 draw in Iraq in their opening Group B match, and while he was sacked as manager of the Iraq national team in 2008 having failed to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he took the Under-23 side to fourth place at the 2004 Olympic Games. In their two previous meetings Japan has not won in ordinary time, coming from behind in a penalty shootout in their 2004 AFC Asian Cup quarter-final, and in the 2011 competition Maya Yoshida headied an equaliser in the 92nd minute to ensure their opening Group B game ended in a 1-1 draw, having seen his outstretched boot deflect Abdel Fattah’s shot beyond Eiji Kawashima before half-time. Japan eventually topped the group, but only by virtue of a superior goal difference to Jordan.

In positive news for the national team, the Asahi Shimbun reports that they have moved up seven places in the latest FIFA World Rankings. The Samurai Blue now sit in 23rd position, their highest position since January 2012, and with AFC rivals dropping three spaces to 24th, they now rank the highest of any nation in the confederation.

Hiromi Hara, Technical Director for the Japanese national team, has confirmed that there will be no training camp for the Under-23 Samurai Blue prior to the team departing for the London 2012 Games, according to the Sankei Shimbun. Citing a very busy domestic schedule and resting potential squad members based overseas, final preparations will instead be made in advance of the send-off match versus New Zealand on July 11, part of a double-header at the National Olympic Stadium in which the Nadeshiko will host Australia.

And finally, Kashiwa Reysol forward and former Japan international Hideaki Kitajima has agreed a loan move to J.League Division Two side Roasso Kumamoto. The 33-year old from Chiba has made just five appearances for the Sun Kings in 2012, three of those in the starting line-up, and Kitajima said enthusiasm for the move was borne out of wanting to play. Beyond three years at Shimizu S-Pulse between 2003 and 2005, Kitajima has been at Reysol since 1997, making 209 total appearances for both sides and scoring 43 goals in that time. Joining Roasso at the end of July, the loan is scheduled to finish at the end of the 2012 season, and his presence will doubtless be welcomed by a team struggling for goals, in a division where only three teams have netted fewer times.

日本 3 (Japan) オマーン (Oman) 0

(Video of Japan’s goals in their 3-0 victory at home to Oman, the first of three 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification games to be played in the space of ten days)

Shinji Kagawa may have recently eclipsed Keisuke Honda as the most high profile and coveted of Japan’s overseas contingent, but it was the latter’s display in a very comfortable 3-0 victory against Oman which provided a reminder of the numerous gifts that led to SS Lazio engaging in interminable transfer negotiations last year. While Japan will face sterner tests of their credentials in attempting to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup from the AFC’s Group B, most notably the 12 June fixture in Brisbane against closest rivals Australia, coach Alberto Zaccheroni will be satisfied with three points achieved in resounding fashion, and by measured performances from Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe at the heart of field, flair and precision in equal parts from Shinji Kagawa and an eye-catching late cameo from FC Nuremberg-bound Hiroshi Kiyotake. Most of all, Honda’s ball retention under pressure, diligent work-rate, awareness of space and intelligent distribution implied a man who has finally returned to full form and fitness following a spate of injuries.

Playing in front of an expectant, capacity crowd at the Saitama Stadium, Japan were authoritative from the opening seconds to the closing blast of referee Ravshan Irmatov’s whistle, the final match statistics providing affirmation of a tie which became less of a contest and more of an opportunity for Japan to hone their ability in front of goal for their forthcoming fixtures as the game went on. Seventeen shots to Oman’s one can also be seen in the context of Wigan Athletic’s Ali Al-Habsi being one of the few Omani Daggers’ players to emerge with any credit, the national team’s captain preventing Shinji Okazaki from heading in with a fine stop towards the end of the first-half, and making an outstanding double save late on from first Honda and then Kiyotake to keep the scoreline moderately respectable.

The first goal was created through passing at its simplest but sublime in its execution. Controlling a clearance out of the Oman defence close to half-way, centre-back Yasuyuki Konno played the ball forward to Kagawa, whose adroit touch to Jubilo Iwata’s Ryoichi Maeda was immediately returned to the Borussia Dortmund player. Sending Yuto Nagatomo past Mohammed Al-Musalami, the Internazionale defender’s cross was perfectly judged for Keisuke Honda’s late run into the penalty area, and his technique was flawless as he volleyed past Al-Habsi. Honda’s celebration, in which he gestured to his squad number both on the front and reverse of his jersey, was perhaps a pointed reminder to supporters that he isn’t ready or willing to cede his position as Japan’s most celebrated player of recent years quite yet.

While there was little threat provided by Paul Le Guen’s charges, Japan failed to add to their lead before the interval, underlining that while Japan are yet to be defeated by the Arab state, historically matches between the two nations have been tight affairs, the Samurai Blue having only previously scored more than a single goal in their contests on just one occasion. It would come as some relief therefore that a second came just six minutes after the restart, Maeda furthering their advantage, but the home side were the recipients of questionable decision-making from Irmatov and his assistant. Building from defence, Honda was twice involved in the build-up before laying-off to Kagawa on the left touchline midway inside Oman territory. Cutting inside, the prospective Manchester United player spotted Maeda’s run, deftly bending the ball inside Jaber Al-Owaisi. Maeda miscontrolled, fortunate in seeing Al-Habsi remain on his line and turning in from close range, but having clearly strayed a yard offside and the decision not given it was merely one of several errors of judgement made by the officials during the course of the game.

Shortly after Japan were three ahead, Endo finding Kagawa in the centre of Oman’s half, who pushed the ball to Maeda on the right of The Red penalty area. The 30-year old’s shot was half-blocked, and fell instead for Shinji Okazaki six yards from goal. His initial effort was into the midriff of Al-Habsi, but the rebound came back to the forward who scored at the second attempt. Having put the game beyond Oman’s reach, Zaccheroni could then afford to provide two of his most recent squad additions with some time on the pitch, Hiroki Sakai making his second appearance for his country at a senior level, and Kiyotake providing glimpses of why yet another Bundesliga club wishes to pursue young Japanese talent.

If any negatives could be drawn from an otherwise very positive evening for the Nippon Daihyo coaching staff, it was in Okazaki’s dissipation. While the VfB Stuttgart forward netted the game’s second and his 28th for the Samurai Blue, becoming Japan’s fourth highest goalscorer in history, twice in the first period he let opportunities pass by, the clearest of which resulted from another superb Nagatomo cross after being found by Honda, and unmarked on the penalty spot he headed wide of the right upright. Japan will meet better teams in this group and they will not be the beneficiaries of such largesse in future matches, but with the 26-year old possessing a goalscoring rate of almost precisely one goal every two games, any suggestion that he should be benched is rendered largely untenable.

The Saitama Stadium now awaits the visit of Jordan on 8 June, who could only draw 1-1 with Iraq at the Amman International Stadium, and the Samurai Blue should be confident of leaving for Australia and their tantalising fixture with the Socceroos holding six points from two matches, before World Cup qualification ends until the autumn.

Japan Oman
Goalscorers Min Goalscorers Min
Keisuke Honda 12
Ryoichi Maeda 51
Shinji Okazaki 54
Substitutes Min Substitutes Min
Atsuto Uchida
Hiroki Sakai
57 Abdul Al-Mukhaini
Ali Al-Jabri
64
Shinji Okazaki
Hiroshi Kiyotake
78 Imad Al-Hosni
Abdullaziz Al-Muqbari
65
Yasuhito Endo
Hajime Hosogai
86 Hussain Al-Hadri
Ismail Al-Ajmi
66
Cautions Min Cautions Min
Fawzi Bashir 9 Atsuto Uchida 30
20120603-203509.jpg

Japan: 4-2-3-1 (Blue); Oman: 3-4-3 (Red)

The Press Round-up

The 2012 Kirin Challenge Cup fixture with Azerbaijan was the final chance for Samurai Blue manager Alberto Zaccheroni to run the rule over his players before selecting his squad for the three upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification matches. The national team eased to a 2-0 victory courtesy of goals from Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki either side of half-time. Kagawa, the subject of intense press speculation in recent weeks after confirming he would not be renewing his contract with Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund, broke legendary Japan striker Kunishige Kamamoto’s longstanding record to become the youngest player to reach ten goals for his country.

The morning after the match the Italian named the players who will join him for the matches against Oman, Jordan and Australia, and despite increasing the overall headcount from 23 to 25, there is no place for FC Tokyo’s Yuhei Tokunaga and Aria Hasegawa or Urawa Reds’ Genki Haraguchi, while defenders Yasuyuki Konno and Maya Yoshida, midfielders Hiroshi Kiyotake and Yasuhito Endo, and striker Mike Havnenaar all make the cut. The full squad details are as follows:

Position Name Club
GK Eiji Kawashima Lierse S.K.
GK Shusaku Nishikawa Sanfrecce Hiroshima
GK Shuichi Gonda FC Tokyo
DF Yuichi Komano Jubilo Iwata
DF Yasuyuki Konno Gamba Osaka
DF Yuzo Kurihara Yokohama F-Marinos
DF Masahiko Inoha Vissel Kobe
DF Yuto Nagatomo Internazionale
DF Tomoaki Makino 1. FC Köln
DF Atsuto Uchida Schalke 04
DF Maya Yoshida VVV-Venlo
DF Hiroki Sakai Kashiwa Reysol
MF Yasuhito Endo Gamba Osaka
MF Kengo Nakamura Kawasaki Frontale
MF Makoto Hasebe VfL Wolfsburg
MF Hajime Hosogai FC Augsburg
MF Keisuke Honda CSKA Moscow
MF Hideto Takahashi FC Tokyo
FW Ryoichi Maeda Jubilo Iwata
FW Shinji Okazaki VfB Stuttgart
FW Mike Havenaar Vitesse Arnhem
FW Takayuki Morimoto Novara
FW Shinji Kagawa Borussia Dortmund
FW Hiroshi Kiyotake Cerezo Osaka
FW Ryo Miyaichi Arsenal

The Asahi Shimbun has a piece on the ongoing financial troubles at J.League Division 2 outfit FC Gifu, currently sat rock bottom of the professional ranks. Having previously been unable to repay a ¥50 million loan by a 2009 deadline, the club’s position has become so perilous as to have spurred a meeting attended by the prefectural government, including the chambers of commerce and tourism organisation, together with a number of private sector bodies to try to ensure its survival. The situation is so far without resolution.

In the final story of the day, the Sankei Shimbun takes its lead from German football magazine Kicker, stating that Samurai Blue defender Atsuto Uchida has entered negotiations to extend his contract with Bundesliga side Schalke 04. Horst Heldt, the General Manager at Die Königsblauen has described the 24-year old right-back as being extremely professional towards the club and having a wonderful mentality.

The Daily Round-up

Former Kawasaki Frontale manager Naoki Soma, who was dismissed on 11 April after a poor start to the season and leading Frontale to eleventh place in the 2011 campaign (Image courtesy of The Japan Times)

Manager Naoki Soma has been dismissed by Kawasaki Frontale following their poor start to the season, reports the Asahi Shimbun. Soma, the former Japanese international full-back and Kawasaki Frontale player, was appointed to the position for the start of the 2011 season in which he led his team to a disappointing eleventh place. Current Japan Under-23 manager Takashi Sekizuka and his assistant Tsutomu Takahata were always going to prove a difficult act to follow given their five consecutive top five finishes, of which three were runners-up, but while he was given the opportunity to rectify the previous season’s failures a dismal return of just seven points from five games in the 2012 J.League campaign to date was insufficient to avoid dismissal. Assistant coach Tatsuya Mochizuki will take over immediately as manager on an interim basis while Frontale complete the search for Soma’s replacement. Soma becomes the second J.League Division 1 manager to be sacked this season following the firing of Jose Carlos Serrao at Gamba Osaka, and in a statement issued by the club he said “It is a shame I leave the team without having been able to fulfill my ambition …I felt like we were making steps in the right direction and I thought things would take off from here on.”

The Asahi Shimbun also noted the presence of Samurai Blue manager Alberto Zaccheroni at Wednesday’s Bundesliga match between FC Augsburg and VfB Stuttgart, in which Die Roten ran out 3-1 winners. Zaccheroni was there to run his eye over prospective team and squad members for June’s Group B 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification matches, with Japan due to play three matches in the space of only ten day, and saw midfielder Hajime Hosogai play the full 90 minutes for the losing side, while right-back Gotoku Sakai featured throughout for the victors, Shinji Okazaki once again an unused substitute for Stuttgart. All three players met the national team manager after the fixture.

Japan has risen to 30th place in the latest FIFA World Ranking, adds the Sankei Shimbun. The move up the table puts Japan one place ahead of AFC rivals South Korea, but comes too late to affect their seeding for the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

And finally, the Yomiuri Shimbun confirms that Keisuke Honda is expected to return from injury next week. The 25 year-old playmaker has been plagued by a knee injury he suffered in September 2011, and he has encountered repeated setbacks in finding a route back to full fitness, is in line to feature in the Moscow derby against Dinamo on 21 April.