Japanese in Europe: Yuto Nagatomo's poor play contributes to Inter defeat

Aside from Shinji Kagawa and Takashi Inui's minor accomplishments, few Japanese players in Europe had much to be proud of this weekend
By Dan Orlowitz, Akira Araiwa, Paul Kelly and Cesare Polenghi

In their last weekend of play before Alberto Zaccheroni announces his roster for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, few Japanese players in Europe produced anything positive for the Italian tactician to consider.

In Italy, Yuto Nagatomo's Inter suffered an embarrassing 2-1 loss to bitter rivals Juventus at home. Nagatomo shared some guilt for both goals as each time he was caught off-position, and generally had a disappointing match.

In Novara's 1-1 draw at Lecce, Takayuki Morimoto warmed the bench for 90 minutes.

The biggest disappointment for Japanese in Europe may have been CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda; although there was speculation that he could return to the field by the end of October he was nowhere to be seen in his club's 4-0 win at Spartak Nalchik.

With Bundesliga going into round 11, the clash between Stuttgart’s Shinji Okazaki and Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa on Saturday naturally occupied centre stage for Japanese media, as it was indeed the first meeting between the two Samurai Blue attackers since coming to Germany. Both players started and while none actually hit the back of the net, the match itself lived up to its promise.

Although the visitors started brightly with several huge chances, the match developed into an even contest. Between the two Japanese, Okazaki held the upper hand in the first half as he impressed winning the ball in midfield several times while Kagawa looked anonymous. Still, the former Cerezo player managed to record his first assist of the season for the 1-1 equaliser with what seemed like his first contribution to the game in stoppage time of the first half.

"I call it 'shootering'... it's sort of a shot, but if someone pushes it in, then it's a centering pass."

- Shinji Kagawa on his game-tying 'assist'

The score remained unchanged, but the second half saw a much improved Kagawa, who tested Stuttgart’s keeper with a good distance shot shortly after the break and missed a golden opportunity at the hour mark after dribbling into the box. The 22-year-old attacker played a full match for the visitors while Okazaki was replaced in the 71st minute.

The Bundesliga weekend began with SC Freiburg’s 1-0 home defeat to Bayer Leverkusen on Friday. Former Japan international Kisho Yano, who is said to be keen on a move away from the bottom club, did not feature in the match-day squad.

On Saturday, Wolfsburg hosted newly-promoted Hertha Berlin in an exciting 3-2 win for the impressive visitors. Makoto Hasebe was once again fielded at right-back, and had a mixed afternoon as he was uncharacteristically unreliable in defence but contributed to the Wolves’ attacking play from the right flank.

Besides again recording most of his team's touches, and his crosses finding their target with an astonishing 100 per cent accuracy on this afternoon, it was a run by the former Urawa Reds player which led to the 2-2 equaliser in the 84th minute. But only a minute later, his mis-hit clearance led to the winner for the capital club.

Celebrating his first goal for Bayern Munich in the midweek DFB-Pokal game and also scoring a brace for Bayern II on Friday, Takashi Usami sat on the bench the full 90 minutes in his club’s 4-0 win over visiting Nurnberg.

Schalke won 3-1 against Hoffenheim to further push up the table where the Knappen hold second place. Atsuto Uchida stayed an unused substitute, since new boss Huub Stevens is currently fielding German national Benedikt Howedes as right-back.

In another match on Saturday, Borussia Monchengladbach recorded a narrow 2-1 home win over Hannover 96. After seeing some pitch time in the last league match as well as in the Foals' DFB-Pokal clash on Wednesday, former Reysol attacker Yuki Otsu watched this game from the bench.

On Sunday, FC Augsburg had another Bundesliga learning experience when they were defeated 3-0 by FC Koln. Hajime Hosogai started as left-back, and with the score already one behind, the referee controversially spotted a foul by him in the area to award the Geissbocke a penalty for the second goal.

After an otherwise rather anonymous display by him in the first half, the 25-year-old switched positions with Lorenzo Davids after the break, and was involved much more in building up his team’s play. On the other side, Tomoaki Makino was again an unused substitute for Koln.

On Friday, VfL Bochum’s Takashi Inui again showed his class when he scored the only goal in the home game against lowly Alemannia Aachen in the 2.Bundesliga. The winner came in the 37th minute when Inui hit a swerving shot from outside the area. The former Cerezo man was lively but still has to learn to stay calm as a gesture towards the referee unnecessarily earned him a yellow card in the second half and put his team in danger.

In Holland's Eredivisie, Maya Yoshida played a full 90 minutes in VVV's 3-1 loss at NAC Breda. Robert Cullen came on as a super-substitute in the last six minutes but was ineffective.

Yoshiaki Takagi did not make the lineup for Utrecht, while Michihiro Yasuda watched his Vitesse's 1-0 victory away at De Graafschap from the bench.

Akihiro Ienaga didn't make the bench in Mallorca's 5-0 trouncing by Barcelona in La Liga play.

In England, Leicester City played away against promotion contenders West Ham United with Yuki Abe in the starting lineup. A drab and dispirited display, hungover from the recent sacking of Leicester City manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, occurred in the first half.

Down two goals by the first half, Abe and his team-mates came out in the second with guns blazing. A much improved performance almost resulted in a draw, but Leicester eventually lost out in a 3-2 defeat. With a new manager on the horizon, questions will hang over every player's position, including Abe's. Only time will tell if he will be in the new manager's thoughts.

In Croatia, Masahiko Inoha's full appearance couldn't prevent his Hajduk Split side from their second loss of the season as they fell 2-1 to Inter Zapresic. Hajduk remains in second place in the league.

Despite a solid performance in a 2-0 midweek Belgian Cup win, Lierse's Eiji Kawashima had a poor showing on Saturday as his team lost 4-0 at Anderlecht.

After surrendering three goals in the first half, the final insult was delivered late in the second half when Lierse Frederic Frans was shown a straight red in the penalty area and Anderlecht's Guillaume Gillet converted the penalty kick to complete his brace.

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