Mike Havenaar by al-hayat (Flickr)

Mike Havenaar by al-hayat (Flickr)

Japan 8-0 Tajikistan
Osaka, 11/10/11
Scorers: Havenaar (2), Okazaki (2), Kagawa (2), Komano, Nakamura

This eight-goal UFWC title match / WC qualifier saw Unofficial Football World Champions Japan easily retain their title, and their place at the top of their World Cup qualifying group. The game was a complete mis-match, as classy Japan totally dominated against a woeful Tajikistan side that barely managed to get out of their own half. In the end, the scoreline could have been even more emphatic, but for some wayward Japanese finishing.

This was tough introduction to the UFWC for Tajikistan in their first ever title match. The Persian Lions are coached by Alimzhon Rafikov, who is also boss of top Tajikistani league side Esteghlal Dushanbe (or Istiqlol Dushanbe). The club won the Tajikistani treble – the championship, the Super Bowl, and the national cup – in 2010. 11 members of the international squad play for Esteghlal Dushanbe, and the entire squad plays within the Tajikistan domestic league. 22-year-old striker Kamil Saidov and midfielder Ilkhomjon Ortikov play for CSKA Pomir Dushanbe, not to be confused with cross-town rivals CSKA Dushanbe (or Energetik Dushanbe, or Guardia Dushanbe).

Tajikistan had lost all four of their previous World Cup Qualifiers, although losses against Syria in the second round were overturned and awarded to the Tajikistanis after Syria fielded an ineligible player – allowing Tajikistan to reach the third round.

Japan, meanwhile, were unbeaten in World Cup Qualifying, and unbeaten in 2011. In fact, Japan had gone 14 games and 12 months as unbeaten UFWC champions.

Still without Keisuke Honda, coach Alberto Zaccheroni attempted to fill Japan’s creative void by playing 30-year-old Kengo Nakamura and the returning Shinji Okazaki behind main striker Mike Havenaar, the big target man replacing the often-frustrating Tadanari Lee. Eiji Kawashima, Maya Yoshida and Yasuhito Endo all started after being rested against Vietnam last week.

Havenaar’s influence was immediately obvious, with Japan able to get the ball forward much more quickly than in previous matches. In a frantic opening period, Japan piled pressure on the Tajikistan defence. Yoshida went close twice within the first five minutes, and Shinji Kagawa shot narrowly wide.

High balls to Havenaar were an obvious tactic, and they paid off in the 12th minute, when Komano’s cross from the right found the big striker, who powered a header past Alisher Tuychiev in the Tajikistan goal. 1-0 to Japan, and a first goal on his full debut for Havenaar.

The impressive Nakamura went close twice, before Japan doubled their lead, when Okazaki nipped in to fire home at the near post, shooting past the keeper into the roof of the net. 20 minutes gone, and 2-0 to Japan.

Yoshida and Havenaar both had chances before Komano made it 3-0 with a low drive from outside of the penalty area after Nakamura’s shot had been blocked. Then, five minutes before half-time, Kagawa scored a fourth goal – a fine finish with the outside of his boot after more good work from Nakamura.

Havenaar and Endo both had further chances as Japan continued to completely dominate the game, but the score remained 4-0 at half-time.

Within two minutes of the restart it was 5-0, Havenaar scoring a carbon copy of his previous goal, again heading home a Komano cross. The Japanese striker, of Dutch descent, wouldn’t get the chance to score a hat-trick, however. He was substituted to a standing ovation, replaced by Tadanari Lee.

The goals kept on coming, though. After Yoshima, Nagatomo and Okazaki had all hit the woodwork, the impressive Nakamura scored Japan’s sixth with a left-foot drive after a clever flick from Makoto Hasebe.

Goal number seven was the strangest of the lot, as a 67th-minute Kawaga cross sailed over the Tajikistani keeper’s head and into the net.

At this point, Tajikistan enjoyed their only meaningful piece of possession in the entire match, winning a free kick in Japan’s half, and then winning a corner, which came to nothing. It was only thing of note in a desperate Tajikistani performance, apart from some good saves from Alisher Tuychiev.

Okazaki scored Japan’s eighth goal in the 76th minute, heading home from a Nakamura cross, and beating poor Tuychiev at his near post. By this point, the Japanese players seemed faintly embarrassed to celebrate.

Alimzhon Rafikov took off a striker and brought on a defender, presumably to shore up his defence and protect his side’s goal difference. At 8-0 down. To be fair, the reshuffle worked. Although Japan continued to have all of the possession, and carved out a handful of further chances, there were no more goals.

Japan have now gone 15 games undefeated as UFWC champions, and are now ranked among the top 20 in the UFWC’s all-time ranking table. Today’s 8-0 win was one of the biggest in UFWC history. The last team to score 8 goals in a UFWC title match was Germany in 2000, when they won 8-2 vs Lichtenstein. The last team to win a UFWC title match 8-0 was the Netherlands, vs Malta in 1990.

The bad news for Tajikistan is that they have to do this again next month. The next UFWC title match is the return WC qualifying group fixture between these two sides, on 11 November at the Pamir Stadium in Dushanbe. Japan will be full of confidence, but Tajikistan surely can’t play as badly on home soil as they did in Osaka today.

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