With nothing but pride on the line, the visiting White Wolves got the better of the reigning Asian champion with skilled counters that caught the Samurai Blue off guard.
Despite the match being meaningless in terms of qualification, Japan manager Alberto Zaccheroni chose to field the strongest possible lineup featuring mostly Europe-based stars in his 20th appearance in charge of the Samurai Blue.
The visitors brought the fight to Japan early and often in the first half, pushing forward on the counter and causing the home defenders to backpedal in order to blunt the attack.
The home side continued to pressure and earned several corner kicks in the process, but Yasuhito Endo couldn’t find a telling ball and the teams went into the locker room scoreless at halftime.
The deadlock was finally broken 10 minutes into the second half, when a perfectly-executed Uzbekistan counter caught Japan flatfooted. Eiji Kawashima blocked the diving header from Bahodir Nashimov off Jasur Hasanov’s cross, but Aleksandr Shadrin slammed in the rebound to give the White Wolves the lead.
Japan attempted to fight back by bringing on Takashi Inui and Tadanari Lee, but despite an increased sense of urgency players such as Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa were unable to convert decent opportunities.
With a capacity crowd at Toyota Stadium eagerly awaiting the international debut of Bolton’s Ryo Miyaichi, Zaccheroni was forced to make a defensive substitution when Yuichi Komano came on for an injured Yuto Nagatomo.
Despite Japan’s frantic attack in the waning minutes, Uzbekistan managed to hold on and capture Group C with 16 points, while Japan finished in second place with 10. The final round of World Cup qualifying will begin on June 3.
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