Japan got their defense of the AFC Asian Cup with a run of the mill 4-0 victory against debutants Palestine.
In a windy Newcastle Stadium the Samurai Blue ensured early on that they would not be the victim of any embarrassment let alone upset. In all fairness Javier Aguirre’s side didn’t need to get out of second gear as put the game out of sight after 25 minutes.
For the Palestinians it was a case of trying to match their illustrious opponents. To their credit they weren’t overawed and attempted to impose their own game when they had possession and worked hard when the Japanese were passing the ball about.
The experience of playing football at an Asian Cup level is something Palestine must make the most of and as for Japan it’s safe to say that they will have tougher tests ahead in the competition.
Programming note: For viewers in the United States, the tournament is being shown exclusively on One World Sports and DishWorld. Even if you don’t have a TV subscription to One World Sports, you can access the channel via online streaming service DishWorld for $10/month. Sign up for DishWorld via their website.
1. Japan in no mood for fairytales:
The completely and utterly romantic story would have seen Palestine somehow achieve a giant-killing win. Even a battling loss would have seen the Palestinians come out with some kind of moral victory. Japan though were in no mood to be the patsy in any fairy tale.
The Japanese dispatched their opponents with ease and rarely looked flustered. The moment Yasuhito Endo opened the scoring with in truth be told a tame effort the Japanese never looked back.
In a sense Japan was on a hiding to nothing facing Palestine. Nothing short than a convincing win would do for Javier Aguirre’s team and they achieved just that. This was a professional victory if not anything else.
2. The two Shinjis strike:
It’s been a season of contrasts for the two Shinjis, Okazaki and Kagawa. The Mainz striker has been enjoying a productive time whilst the Dortmund man could be doing better since his return from Manchester United.
The pair eased themselves into this match rather than stamp their authority but then again they didn’t need to be at their best to breach the Palestinian backline.
Okazaki diverted a Kagawa shot expertly into the Palestinian net to score Japan’s second goal. The Dortmund man then stood up a cross for Maya Yoshida to head home and make it four.
The two Shinjis didn’t need to be at 100% but when required they produced quality moments.
3. What did Aguirre take out of the game?
Spare a thought for Japan’s new manager. He could take very little of substance out of this match. His side won comfortably, his defense was relatively solid and for most part the Japanese passing was generally okay.
What may have concerned him was the lack of intensity shown by his side especially after Palestine were reduced to 10-men with 20-minutes to go. From then on the passing went a little astray and his side didn’t really go for the jugular as they appeared to be happy with a 4-0 win.
It could be read in one of two ways; either the Japanese didn’t want to embarrass their opponents or they were simply being too nice. Regardless, apart from the three points there wasn’t much for Javier Aguirre to learn about his side from this particular match.
4. Spirited Palestine must learn from Asian Cup adventure:
It’s hard to be too tough on the Palestinians. Their preparations haven’t been ideal and it would be churlish to expect them to compete with the likes of fellow group members Iraq and Jordan let alone the Asian champions.
Whilst their commitment cannot be doubted and they did have some neat passages of play they were perhaps unsurprisingly naïve giving away soft free kicks and penalties and maybe tried to take the game too much to Japan when they had the ball.
Palestine and the coach Ahmed Al Hassan must decide whether to take a more pragmatic approach and make themselves hard to beat against Iraq and Jordan or do they try to play a more open game and cause them problems. Adventure? Discipline? A mixture of both?
Whatever approach they adopt they will need to learn from this match and the other two so that they can build for future tournaments.
5. Surprisingly good crowd turnout:
Maybe it was the very outside possibility of an upset, perhaps it was to see the Asian champions play or to watch the Palestinians in their very first AFC Asian Cup match ever but whatever the reason the turnout was from fans of both teams and the Australian public was pretty positive.
The tournament appears to be warmly received by the Australian public and the fans of each participating team are adding a welcome dose of atmosphere and colour.
Maybe the standard of soccer wasn’t of the highest caliber but the support has been top notch.
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