World Cup: Japan shows progress, beats Singapore

World Cup: Japan shows progress, beats Singapore
Mu Kanazaki scores Japan's first goal on Thursday in Singapore.
PHOTO: The Yomiuri Shimbun

SINGAPORE - Clad in new dark blue uniforms, the Samurai Blue overpowered Singapore 3-0 here Thursday in their World Cup Asian qualifying match, wiping away the bitter memory of being held to a scoreless draw by the same team five months ago in Saitama.

Forward Mu Kanazaki, who replaced Shinji Okazaki as a starter, scored the team's first goal in the 20th minute. Forward Keisuke Honda and defender Maya Yoshida added a goal each to push Japan to the top of Group E with 13 points.

"We showed some beautiful action in the first half," manager Vahid Halilhodzic said.

The Samurai Blue scored two of their goals in the first half, in line with Halilhodzic's strategy to beat an opponent that Japan was unable to score against in their June encounter despite taking 23 shots.

For the first goal, right forward Honda send a cross to the far side, where left forward Yoshinori Muto waited to deliver a pass to Kanazaki with a header. The Kashima Antlers forward fired a left-footed shot to score his first goal with the national team.

Kanazaki declined to talk to the media after the match, but Mainz forward Muto said, "It's the kind of play I discussed with Keisuke [Honda] and Hiroki [Sakai] before the match."

Honda doubled Japan's lead six minutes later. Japan players exchanged one-touch passes on the right side, sending the ball to Hiroshi Kiyotake, who sprinted to the back of the Singapore's defensive line. The Hanover midfielder sent a pass into the box, and Muto deftly tapped it to Honda, who found the net.

In June's encounter against Singapore, Japan's attacks became monotonous as they jammed the centre of the field. Samurai Blue players said after the match that they were overly conscious of Halilhodzic's slogan of "attack quickly straight ahead."

Learning from the experience, Japan entered Thursday's match with the aim of launching attacks from the side. Left back Yuto Nagatomo and right back Sakai occasionally penetrated Singapore's defence to lure defenders to the side. These efforts led to the two goals in the first half, underscoring Japan's development of variety in their attacks.

Other than Okazaki, Halilhodzic also had Dortmund attacker Shinji Kagawa on the bench as the mainstays showed signs of fatigue. However, Kanazaki and Yosuke Kashiwagi, who started instead of Kagawa, both made their presence felt in the match.

On Tuesday in Phnom Penh, Japan will face Cambodia, which lost to Afghanistan 3-0 in the other Group E match. Second-place Syria, which trails Japan by one point, did not play.

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