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Inamoto impresses in poor team display

2 Feb 2009(Mon)

January 30, 2009: Japan can have no complaints about the 1-0 defeat in Bahrain on Wednesday night.

They did not play well, especially in defence, and failed to mount any period of sustained pressure on the Bahrain goal as they chased the game in the second half.

Naturally they had their chances, notably through a sliding Tatsuya Tanaka volley in the first half and a smart, near-post header from Okazaki in the second half that earned applause from his captain, Yuji Nakazawa, but they did not deserve a draw.

On the subject of which, Nakazawa had a commanding game and stood between Japan and a heavier defeat with his covering play and aggression at the back. Later in the match he tried to stir Japan into life, Tulio-style, but received little support from his subdued teammates.

Apart from Nakazawa, the only other player who stood out was Inamoto, who started alongside Kengo Nakamura in the midfield engine room in Takeshi Okada's 4-2-3-1 formation. "Ina" always made himself available by dropping deep to collect the ball, and produced some incisive passes through the midfield. At set-pieces he managed to find space on the edge of the box and had a couple of decent attempts at goal, and in general played himself right back into contention for the World Cup qualifier at home to Australia with his mature performance.

In goal, Kawashima was all over the place, not knowing when to come off his line and when to stay, and in front of him Terada had an awful first half but improved in the second. On one occasion Terada made a very "J.League" mistake, trying to be too clever out on the left wing in a race for a loose ball and seeing the Bahrain right winger surge past him. I call it a J.League error because it is the kind of mistake you see when players become too casual in Japan and stop doing the basic things, which on this occasion would have been to simply put the ball out of play for a throw-in.

Uchida, quiet all game, was caught napping for the goal, ball watching at a deep free kick from the right and seeing left winger Salman Issa move across him and send a looping header into the far corner, with Kawashima always scrambling to make up the ground.

Nagatomo at left back could not lift his game, and Kengo failed to assert any authority in midfield, despite having little defensive work to do because of Inamoto's industry.

Up front, the Okazaki-Tanaka-Keisuke Honda line failed to gel with the lone striker Tamada, who looked quite sharp but who would surely be better deployed on the left of the supporting three rather than leading such a lightweight line.

No, a poor show by Japan, and Okada will have learned a lot about certain players on the fringes of selection with a full squad available.

I managed to watch the match live on Al Jazeera while on a business trip to Kuwait, but Japanese fans back home really missed nothing -- apart from Honda trying to win the Takayuki Suzuki lookalike competition with his blond mop of hair.


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