Uzbekistan 1-1 Japan
Tashkent, 6 September 2011
Scorers: Djeparov 8, Okazaki 65

UFWC champions Japan retained their title, but were pushed close by an impressive Uzbekistan side who could easily have won this match and ruined Japan’s fun. Shinji Okazaki was the goalscoring hero, but it was another tenacious team effort from Japan that extended their reign as champions.

In addition to being a UFWC title match, this was also a World Cup qualifier – the second Asian group C match for each side. Both Japan and Uzbekistan had won their previous matches 1-0, against North Korea and Tajikistan respectively. North Korea beat Tajikistan 1-0 in another group match earlier today.

Still without Keisuke Honda, who had knee surgery at the end of last week and will be out of action for three weeks, Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni pushed Shinji Okasaki up to support Tadanari Lee rather than Yosuke Kashiwagi, who was dropped from the team.

Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov, who had earlier joked that Japan team was ‘a simple team’, went with Alexander Geynrikh up front, with support in midfield from Odil Ahmedov and team captain Server Djeparov. There was no room for veteran former Dynamo Kiev striker Maksim Shatskikh, who scored the goal against Tajikistan, but was left on the bench.

The game started brightly, and its fast pace rarely let up. Both sides pushed forward, but Uzbekistan’s dynamic midfield dominated the early stages, and created the crucial early breakthrough in the eighth minute. A long shot thudded against Eiji Kawashima’s right-hand post, the ball was knocked back into the penalty area, and Djeparov arrived to sweep a volley past the Japanese keeper. The Uzbek captain celebrated with a somersault. It was 1-0 to the challengers.

Japan continued to get the ball forward, but struggled against the Uzbek’s strong defence. A rare chance fell to Lee on 14 minutes, but the striker hit the post and the ball was cleared.

Uzbekistan continued to stand strong in defence and threaten in attack, and almost scored an incredible goal midway through the first half, when Viktor Karpenko got on the end of a long high ball not too far from Japan’s corner flag and hit an astonishing dipping volley that had to be clawed away from under the crossbar by Kawashima.

For Japan, Yuichi Komano got forward from the left back position to strike a shot through legs that Ignatiy Nesterov did well to hold in the Uzbek goal. Then, at the other end, Ahmedov drove a fierce shot over the Japanese crossbar.

In the final stages of the first half, Okazaki went down under a challenge from Nesterov, but didn’t have any claim for a penalty, then Timur Kapedze fired a low shot across the Japanese goal. Then, in the last few seconds, Lee controlled a high ball and hit a left-foot shot that again struck the Uzbek post.

The second half was less frantic in pace, and with less chances. Shinji Kagawa headed over the bar for Japan, and Geynrikh fired over for Uzbekistan. Nesterov continued to dominate his penalty area, claiming any high balls that Japan fired in. Then the Uzkeks created two good chances – Djeparov seeing his shot blocked on the edge of the box, and Kapadze breaking through only to see Kawashima smother his shot.

Then, on 65 minutes, Japan found an equaliser – Shinji Okazaki meeting a Atsuto Uchida cross with a brave diving header that forced the ball beyond Nesterov into the back of the net. 1-1, and this UFWC title match was all square.

Zaccheroni replaced a visibly upset Lee, who had toiled up front without much luck, with Mike Havenaar, and the big striker had two half chances, placing a shot and a header straight into the keeper. Uzbekistan had a better chance, though, with Djeparov sent clean through, only to roll his shot straight at Kawashima. For Japan, a Kagawa cross-shot that threatened to dip under Nesterev’s goal was punched away by the keeper, but there were no more goals.

The final score was 1-1. The Uzbeks hadn’t quite managed to keep up the pace displayed in their impressive first half, and Japan’s tenacity had eventually paid off. Japan retain the UFWC title and remain Unofficial Football World Champions.

Japan’s next UFWC title match is a home friendly against Vietnam on 7 October. Vietnam has never participated in the UFWC before. Japan, meanwhile, are now in 20th position in the all-time UFWC rankings table, having gone 13 matches unbeaten as Unofficial Football World Champions.

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