Tajikistan 0-4 Japan
Scorers: Konno, Okazaki (2), Maeda
Japan comfortably defeated Tajikistan once again to retain the UFWC title and reach the next qualification round for the 2014 World Cup. The Blue Samurai only scored half as many goals as they did last time out, but it was a strong performance in difficult conditions, in a match in which complacency could have easily played a decisive part.
Midfielder Yasuhito Endo overcame a groin strain to play for Japan, and Kengo Nakamura and Mike Havenaar both retained their places in the starting eleven. The Tajikistan players all lined up with “Tajikistan” on the back of their shirts, making identification somewhat problematic, but goalkeeper Alisher Tuychiev, defender Davronjon Ergashev, midfielder Dilshod Vasiev and forward Kamil Saidov made up the spine of the team.
The pitch in Dushanbe was in terrible condition, and had been described by Japan captain Makoto Hasebe as “mostly dirt”. The opening exchanges were mostly scrappy, but it was clear from the outset that Tajikistan would offer slightly stronger opposition than they had in the previous match. Indeed, within the first 60 seconds the Tajiks probably had as much meaningful possession as they did in the whole of that 8-0 drubbing.
Despite Tajikistan’s improved efforts, it was Japan who created the best chances. Seven minutes in, Shinji Okazaki set up Havenaar, who dragged a left-foot shot wide of the post from the edge of the penalty area. Within a minute, Yasuhito Endo had also shot just wide for Japan.
Tajik keeper Tuychiev was kept busy, and he had to react quickly to prevent an own goal when one of his defenders dangerously deflected a Kagawa cross. Tuychiev also had to be alert to tip a Yuichi Komano shot over the bar.
But then Tajikistan almost scored a great goal, with Vasiev driving a fierce shot that beat keeper Eiji Kawashima but thudded against the far post.
That chance perhaps sparked Japan into action, and, in the 35th minute, the deadlock was broken. Tuychiev made a great save from Nakamura’s initial shot, but Yasuyuki Konno was first to the rebound to drive the ball into the net under the unlucky keeper.
Tajikistan responded immediately from the restart, with Ergashev driving a 35-yard shot just wide of Kawashima’s goal. But the first half ended with Japan leading 1-0.
It was notable that Japan hadn’t exploited the aerial threat that had served them so well in the previous match, and indeed big striker Havenaar was withdrawn. Nevertheless, Japan’s lead was doubled 15 minutes into the second half – courtesy of a header. While the Tajikistan supporters amused themselves with their take on a Mexican wave, their team allowed Kagawa space to chip a perfect cross to the back post, where Okazaki arrived to easily head home.
The game continued in scrappy fashion until the 82nd minute, when a moment of class from substitute Ryoichi Maeda put the game beyond the reach of Tajikistan. Evading three defenders, Maeda found space at the edge of the penalty area to drive a brilliant shot into the top corner of the goal past the helpless keeper.
Finally, in stoppage time, Okazaki scored his second goal, and Japan’s fourth. It was a similar goal to Maeda’s, with a clever build-up leaving Okazaki to fire home a right foot shot.
There was barely time to restart the game before the final whistle blew, and the match ended 4-0 to Japan. It was a much better effort from Tajikistan, but the Blue Samurai were once again deserved winners.
So Japan retain the UFWC title, and are now unbeaten in 16 consecutive games as unofficial champions. The next UFWC title match arrives quickly – on Tuesday when Japan travel to North Korea. The last game between the two sides, in Saitama in September, finished 1-0 to Japan courtesy of a last-gasp Maya Yoshida goal. The champions will likely find things more difficult away from home. As usual you’ll find full coverage of the match right here.