Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Japan smash Saudis en route to quarter-finals

2,022. That was the attendance figure announced when Japan faced off against Saudi Arabia at Al-Rayyan stadium, and the symbolism drew a smattering of applause from the 800 or so fans actually in attendance.

Evidently the Asian Cup is not a widespread crowd-puller. With most Saudi fans on the first bus back to Jeddah as soon as the whistle blew on their second group-stage defeat, it's clear most of the Saudi players wished they'd taken the same route.

As it was, they hung around to be pummelled by an impressively professional Japan, who unsheathed the scimitar to hand Saudi Arabia a thoroughly deserved 5-0 defeat.

Shinji Okazaki was the star for the Samurai Blue, smashing home a hat-trick and generally proving a constant menace, as the Stuttgart-bound striker almost registered his treble inside the opening fifteen minutes.

Instead he had to wait until ten minutes from time to notch his hat-trick, while lone striker Ryoichi Maeda also helped himself to two goals, and Japan impressed with what was ostensibly a second-string line-up given the absence of the suspended Eiji Kawashima and injured duo Daisuke Matsui and Keisuke Honda.

Honda may struggle to force his way back into the side at the expense of Okazaki, although the one-dimensional Maeda is the man most likely to make way when the CSKA Moscow star returns from an ankle injury.

Perhaps the only concern for coach Alberto Zaccheroni is the continually sluggish form of midfielder Yasuhito Endo. Understudy Takuya Honda turned in a spritely five-minute cameo against the battered Saudis, and the Shimizu S-Pulse man must surely be close to pulling the rug out from underneath Endo.

Alberto Zaccheroni.


So Japan march on to the Asian Cup quarter-finals: in-form and with the scent of blood in the nostrils. There'll be tougher tests to come, but if the point against Saudi Arabia was to land a knock-out blow, then it was done with emphatic certainty by Zaccheroni's team.

Copyright © Mike Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com


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