Gamba net championship hat-trick

I was at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama at the weekend to see Gamba Osaka beat Montedio Yamagata in the Emperor’s Cup final. Here’s my match report for The Japan News…

The Japan News, Sunday 14th December, 2014

YOKOHAMA — Three proved to be the magic number for Gamba Osaka on Saturday as a trio of strikes enabled it to complete the final leg of its domestic treble at Nissan Stadium, defeating Montedio Yamagata 3-1 to win the Emperor’s Cup.

As has been the case for most of this season, Takashi Usami and Patric were the heroes for Kenta Hasegawa’s side, with the former opening and closing the scoring and his Brazilian teammate finding the net in between.

“There was an element of luck about the third goal, but it’s always been a dream of mine to win titles with this team, and I’m delighted I’ve been able to do that,” Usami said of Gamba’s fourth Emperor’s Cup success.

“The fact that the whole team continued to play the same style of football is what enabled us to win the triple crown,” Gamba coach Hasegawa said. “Of course [Patric and Usami] did really well, but it was the effort of the team as a whole that made the victory possible.”

Gamba won the Nabisco Cup on Nov. 8 — coming from 2-0 down to beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 — then last weekend it wrapped up the J1 title, finishing a point ahead of Urawa Reds despite having at one stage been 14 adrift of the Saitama side. It was the biggest comeback in J.League history.

Yamagata was also celebrating last weekend as it downed JEF United 1-0 in the playoff final to secure a return to J1 for the 2015 season. That victory meant it came into this game in fine form having won six of its last seven games in all competitions.

The Tohoku side was thus full of confidence and tore out of the traps in front of 47,829 fans in Yokohama, where the final was being played instead of National Stadium in Tokyo, which is being renovated ahead of the Olympics in 2020.

Gamba Osaka and Montedio Yamagata line up ahead of the 2014 Emperor's Cup final at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, Saturday 13th December, 2014

Montedio could have taken the lead in the opening minute, but Ryosuke Matsuoka put his effort just wide of Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal.

That scare zapped some life into Gamba, and just three minutes later, it was ahead.

Patric flicked on a long ball and Takashi Usami controlled on his chest before volleying toward the goal. Norihiro Yamagishi managed to keep out the initial effort, but Usami was quickest to react to the loose ball and swept home.

Romero Frank had a chance to equalize for Yamagata one minute later, but Higashiguchi was equal to his effort from a tight angle and diverted it behind for a corner.

The Peruvian would soon rue that failed attempt as Gamba doubled their lead after 22 minutes. This time the roles were reversed as Usami turned provider, winning the ball in his own half and breaking forward to feed Patric, who had found space just inside the Montedio penalty area. The Brazilian stayed calm, cut inside and curled a gorgeous effort into the top corner.

Things got a little nervy for Gamba just past the hour mark when Romero Frank made up for his earlier miss by poking home when unmarked five meters from goal. But Usami settled things in the 85th minute when his strike from 25 meters took a wicked deflection off Takefumi Toma and soared into the back of the net.

“The J.League has been in existence for a little over 20 years, and until now nobody but Kashima has been able to do it,” captain and 2014 J.League MVP Yasuhito Endo said of the triple crown. “It’s an incredibly difficult thing to achieve and I’m honored that we’ve been able to do it.”


Immortal Endo

Everybody likes a comeback, and few would begrudge Yasuhito Endo his moment in the sun after the Gamba Osaka veteran enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in the second half of the J.League season to be crowned the division’s player of the year… (日本語版はこちらです:http://www.footballchannel.jp/2014/12/12/post60517/)

Football Channel,  December 12th, 2014

They say that time waits for no man, but when it comes to Yasuhito Endo you really do have to wonder.

The 34-year-old’s career looked like it was finally winding down in the summer, when he lost his place in the Japan team to Hotaru Yamaguchi just before the World Cup. That came after Endo and his Gamba Osaka teammates had endured a dismal start to the J1 season, winning just three of their first 14 games to leave themselves sitting 16th in the table – 14 points behind leaders Urawa Reds.

Never exactly one to be flustered, Endo just kept doing what he has always done, though, and slowly but surely everything returned to normal.

Gamba won their first five games after the World Cup break – halving the deficit between themselves and Urawa – and then, in November, he earned a recall to the national team.

Honduras were more than obliging opponents on his return, but an assist and a goal in his first 45 minutes back in the No.7 shirt demonstrated that none of his quality had been lost, and his composure in possession and eye for – and ability to execute – passes over a variety of distances meant he totally overshadowed Shinji Kagawa, alongside whom he had been selected at the point of Javier Aguirre’s midfield.

Once he was back in the groove there was nothing that could knock him out of it, and with their metronome back in his regular swing Gamba performed the most unexpected of comebacks, eventually usurping Reds to claim the J1 title, and on course for a treble after they also downed Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 in the Nabisco Cup final.

Before they face Montedio Yamagata in Saturdays’ Emperor’s Cup final Endo took an evening off to pick up the Player of the Year gong at Tuesday’s J.League Awards – surprisingly the first time that the 11-time Best Eleven selectee has received the top individual honour in Japanese football.

Needless to say his fellow professionals were lining up to pay tribute to Japan’s most-capped player (148 games and counting), and his former teammate Lucas agreed that the Kagoshima native may just be immortal.

Yasuhito Endo named 2014 J.League Player of the Year, Yokohama Arena, Tuesday 9th December, 2014

“In the game he’s really composed – really cool – some might say that he’s cold but look at now, for example,” Endo’s ex Gamba teammate told me after the awards. “I also won an award [the Special Service Award] and was pretty nervous, but he picked up the biggest one of the lot, the MVP title, and was still perfectly calm and able to give a speech. That’s his personality.

“He’s always like it, at team parties and so on as well. With that kind of personality he can probably live until he’s 200, I think.”

Motohiro Yamaguchi, who played alongside Endo at Yokohama Flugels in 1998, was also full of praise for his evergreen former teammate.

“He was separated from the national team for a while, but I think the fact that he was able to totally absorb himself in his club then was really big, in terms of looking after his condition,” Yamaguchi told me after Tuesday’s ceremony.

“It wasn’t completely over for him after the World Cup, he still had the motivation. More than that, from the very start… well, he liked football. He just likes football. He plays with an awareness that he just wants to keep getting better.

“He came straight in after graduating high school and we played in pretty much the same position at Flugels. The most lucky thing for him was that he encountered [Carles] Rexach who was the head coach then and had worked at Barcelona – I think that was big for him. He was able to play in matches really soon. Of course it wasn’t only that and he also had ability, he had that talent of how to kick and stop the ball. But that was big for him, I think.”

There was one incident in particular that Yamaguchi recalled as having opened his eyes to the talent of the 18-year-old he was now playing alongside, against Nagoya Grampus in Flugels’ last season.

“We played the same kind of position. Once I was in the No.10 position and he was just behind as a volante. I said to him, just with eye contact, ‘I’ll move here to throw the defender off, but really I want the ball here’. The defender didn’t know anything and [Endo] put the ball exactly where I wanted it. Then I thought, ‘huh, he could tell just through my actions’. That was impressive.”

Sixteen years on and Endo is still surpassing expectations. It is difficult to imagine a time when he isn’t doing so.


Yamazaki helps Yamagata scale J2 mountain

On Sunday I was at Ajinomoto Stadium to see Montedio Yamagata beat JEF United in the J2 Play-Off final. Here’s my match report on the game for The Japan News…

The Japan News, Monday 8th December, 2014

Montedio Yamagata secured promotion to J1 for the 2015 season on Sunday, beating JEF United Chiba 1-0 in the J2 playoff final.

Masato Yamazaki was the hero for Nobuhiro Ishizaki’s side, heading home the decisive goal of the game in the 37th minute, and condemning Chiba to a sixth straight season in the second division.

“It has been three years in J2 and has felt like a long time,” Yamazaki said after the game.

“There are other players in the squad who were relegated with me [in 2011] who haven’t been able to play so I’m glad I was able to put in this effort for them too.”

Montedio were last promoted to J1 as runners-up in the 2008 season, and against all odds survived in the top flight for three years before they were relegated.

Ordinarily they would have had to face JEF in the playoff semifinals, but with Giravanz Kitakyushu not having the requisite license for J1, Chiba, as the highest placed finisher in the playoff places, received a bye direct to the final.

That left Yamagata, which ended the regular season in sixth place, to square off against Jubilo Iwata last weekend, a match it won in dramatic fashion courtesy of an injury-time header by goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi.

This time around, Yamagishi’s duties were restricted to those between his own posts, and he pulled off several stops to ensure that he and his teammates would be playing top-flight soccer next year.

“Just my efforts alone are only very small and this achievement has been possible because of the team as a whole,” the former Urawa Reds stopper said.

Montedio Yamagata fans, Ajinomoto Stadium, Sunday 7th December, 2014

The first real scare of the game came at the other end of the pitch. After a cagey opening spell Yamagata’s Kim Byeom Yong sliced a mishit cross in from the left wing in the 22nd minute which JEF goalkeeper Shun Takagi should have been able to gather cleanly. He got his handling all wrong, though, and was relieved to see the ball drop just wide of his right-hand upright.

Three minutes later, Yamato Machida had JEF’s first clear sight on goal, but his header from a corner whistled inches wide of Yamgashi’s post.

Clear chances were few and far between in the opening period, but Yamazaki was on hand to make a breakthrough eight minutes before the break.

Masaki Miyasaka sent a cross in from the left wing and former Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Yamazaki managed to eke out a yard of space and flick a delicate header across Takagi and into the far side of the goal.

The highest placed finisher is afforded the luxury of only needing a draw to seal promotion, but JEF, as in 2012 when it fell at the same hurdle to Oita Trinita — and despite having lost only three of its league games under Takashi Sekizuka since he took over on Jul. 20 — was unable to find a riposte in the second 45 minutes.

The closest it came was when Tatsuya Yazawa caught an effort sweetly from 25 meters in the 78th minute, but Yamagishi reacted sharply and pulled off a smart save diving to his left.

JEF threw on top scorer Kempes with 13 minutes to play but the Brazilian, with 13 goals in the regular J2 season, was unable to carve out any opportunities as his side dominated possession but found Montedio resolute in defense.

Meanwhile in the J.League, the Albirex-Reysol match snowed out on Saturday was rescheduled for tonight at 7 at Kashima Stadium, Kashima, Ibaraki


Blame game

The president of Cerezo Osaka recently announced he will resign after their disastrous season, but does that make everything ok? No, of course it doesn’t… (日本語版はこちらです: http://www.footballchannel.jp/2014/11/27/post58024/ )

Football Channel,  November 27th, 2014

Cerezo Osaka are hanging onto their J1 place by their fingernails, but as the team scraps away at the bottom of the table their president Masao Okano has declared he’ll be resigning at the end of the season.

If I work in a café and drop a full tray of glasses on the floor am I going to shrug my shoulders, take off my apron, and make for the exit? No, I’m going to get down on my hands and knees and start cleaning up the mess I’ve made. Why, then, does the same not apply to those at the top of the company?

‘Taking responsibility’ is usually how acts of sacrifice such as Okano’s are explained, but to me it appears the opposite. A colleague suggested the day after Cerezo announced that Okano would be throwing in the towel that it is in fact not taking ‘responsibility’ but taking the ‘blame’. A modern-day seppuku, publically atoning for your errors.

Why not learn from the mistakes made and try to put them right, though? Whether Okano is the right man to be making the decisions at Cerezo is certainly up for debate, but can their possible relegation be laid solely at his door? Of course not. Stepping down appears a way of saying it is though, thus exonerating everyone else of all responsibility for a catastrophic season.

And, let’s be honest, there are plenty of people who need to be taking responsibility – and blame – for 2014’s debacle, principal among them the coaches and players.

Ranko Popovic opted to bring Ariajasuru Hasegawa with him from FC Tokyo, breaking up the tried-and-trusted central midfield pairing of Hotaru Yamaguchi and Takahiro Ogihara. From the outside that looked an odd decision, and as Popovic tried to get his ideas across to his new team thrown off by the loss of their heartbeat they picked up just 16 points from his first 13 league games.

They would, in fact, prove to be his only 13 league games and he was fired over the World Cup break and replaced by Marco Pezzaiuoli – a coach unknown in Japan but who was apparently a specialist at developing young players.

Popovic’s record would soon look positively glowing (his average points per game of 1.23 would have actually seen Cerezo safe after 34 games on around 41-42 points) as Pezzaiuoli failed to register a single league win in his nine games at the helm. In the German’s disastrous two month reign Cerezo claimed just 4 points (0.44pg) which would, theoretically, have seen them finish on around 15-16 points if he had he been in charge all season.

I was at both Popovic and Pezzaiuoli’s last games, and in both the team lacked cohesion, quality, and belief. In fact, I have seen Cerezo seven times this year and they won just once – and even that was the ultimately futile victory in the second leg of their Nabisco Cup quarter-final against Kawasaki Frontale (maybe I should take some blame too?).

The players looked almost afraid on the pitch in all of those games, perhaps having gotten caught up in all the hype and unsure of how to marry their new ‘idol’ status and hairstyles with the more rugged pursuit of winning football matches.

That was a concern Popovic had in fact hinted at ahead of the season.

“We have to be concentrating on the game, not around, the stadium and so on,” he told me at the Kick Off Conference. At the time I assumed he was just trying to keep expectations in check ahead of a title push, but in hindsight I wonder if he already had concerns about the mental strength of the squad he had inherited.

“The first thing we have to do is to fight with this pressure because the team is young,” he continued. “The team is young and in Cerezo’s history they’ve never had two seasons the same level – one season good another so-so. We have to be more constant and I hope that this season we can go up and wait for our chance.”

Cerezo's players acknowledge their fans ahead of the 0-0 with Yokohama F.Marinos in October

He’d clearly done his homework and a cursory glance over Cerezo’s J1 history shows that the club often struggles to maintain performance: In 2000 they finished 5th and were relegated the next year; in 2005 they finished 5th – although they were top until Yasuyuki Konno’s famous equaliser for FC Tokyo in the 89th minute on the last day – and dropped down to J2 in 2006; after coming 3rd in 2010 they slumped to 12th the following year; last year they finished 4th and the best they can hope for in 2014 is 14th.

Even that is looking like a tall ask though, and while Yuji Okuma started his spell in charge of the top team with a win over Kashiwa Reysol the expectation that the former youth coach would put everything right hasn’t come to fruition and he’s gathered just 11 points in his 10 games in the hot-seat so far (1.1ppg, a full season projection of 37-38 points).

There is, of course, an elephant in the room here, and we can’t have this discussion without using the ‘F’ word.

Forlan was the great hope for Cerezo 2014, and Diego’s arrival created a flurry of excitement around the club which saw them installed as nailed-on favourites for the title. Again Popovic showed some good foresight in that respect.

“What I don’t like is because Diego came to us everybody says, ‘Cerezo is the champion, other teams have to play for 2nd place’,” he said way back in February. “This is not so. We have to demonstrate it. This is what we have to do first. To relieve this pressure and concentrate on our game.

“If we’re waiting for everything from Diego it’s wrong because we have other players. Football is a team sport and we have to work like a team. When we work together like a team and everybody puts his personal quality inside that team we can expect some good results.”

Things haven’t transpired like that and it is hard to pick out a single Cerezo player – including Forlan – who has shown any real quality this season.

The Uruguayan is still the club’s top scorer in the league with seven goals, though, and if he’s not injured – as he doesn’t appear to be – then why is he not being played?

That is a question only Okuma can answer – although Forlan’s name, hollered from the rooftops back in March, is now only uttered in hushed tones – and for which he must take responsibility.

Of course, Okano was the man who employed Okuma – and Popovic, and Pezzaiuoli – and so he must absolutely take his portion of the blame for this mess of a season – perhaps more so for his firings than the hirings.

Take a look at the J.League champions since the league adapted a one-stage format: Gamba Osaka (2005), Urawa Reds (2006), Kashima Antlers (2007-09), Nagoya Grampus (2010), Kashiwa Reysol (2011), Sanfrecce Hiroshima (2012-13). Each club gave one coach time to build a team (Hajime Moriyasu is the exception at Sanfrecce, although he had worked under his predecessor Mihailo Petrovic) and ultimately earned their just rewards. Cerezo panicked, thought they’d picked the wrong man, replaced him, panicked again, then ran out of money and put the youth coach in charge. They’ve had the same number of coaches this season as they had in the previous six.

This was the first time in a decade that the club had been expected to challenge for honours, though, and so errors were always likely. The sale of Yoichiro Kakitani and injury to Hotaru Yamaguchi – the club’s only two really high quality players – were also factors, but instead of bringing in a new president who may also falter would it not make more sense for Okano – and the club as a whole – to learn from these lessons and make sure that the same mistakes aren’t repeated in the future?


Gamba’s late strikes deny Reds title

The top two in J1 came head-to-head today and I was at Saitama Stadium to see Gamba Osaka close the gap on league leaders Urawa Reds to two points with a 2-0 win. Here’s my report on the game for The Japan News…

The Japan News, Saturday 22nd November, 2014

SAITAMA — Gamba Osaka blew the J1 title race wide open on Saturday, performing a 2-0 smash-and-grab on Urawa Reds, who now top the table by just two points with two games to play.

Some inspired late changes by Gamba coach Kenta Hasegawa proved decisive in the clash of the top two, with both Akihiro Sato and Shu Kurata coming off the bench in the closing stages of the game and finding the net.

“You will have a chance, so make sure you score,” Sato told reporters his coach had said to him before he entered the fray. “I’d noticed the gaps in between the Urawa defenders and thought I’d be able to find space if a pass came my way. As soon as I shot, I knew it had gone in. I didn’t even look at the goal to check.”

That finish, laid on a plate for Sato by another substitute, Lins, in the 88th minute, was followed five minutes later by a similarly clinical effort from Kurata. He squirmed into space in the box after good work by Yasuyuki Konno and fired past Reds keeper Shusaku Nishikawa from a tight angle.

“We had to win or the title was Reds’,” Hasegawa said. “From the 60-minute mark, I thought the tempo would increase and told the players at halftime to be prepared for that. Reds created some chances, but the substitutes were able to produce the result, and for me that is the real strength of this Gamba team.”

Indeed, the Osakans are enjoying a fantastic season, and as well as going strong in the title race, they picked up the Nabisco Cup a fortnight ago and have an Emperor’s Cup semifinal against Shimizu S-Pulse to come on Wednesday.

“I trust all of my players — starters and substitutes — and our confidence is really growing toward the triple crown,” Hasegawa said.

Gamba Osaka fans at Saitama Stadium, Saturday 22nd November, 2014

Their push for a first J1 crown since 2005 looked to be fizzling out as Urawa dominated for large periods on Saturday, and Gamba could have gone in a goal down at halftime. Defender Daiki Niwa, trying to clear a 43rd minute cross, headed it toward his own net, but keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi acrobatically tipped it over the bar.

The second half continued as a cagey affair, and Reds’ best chance fell to winger Tomoya Ugajin in the 82nd minute. His shot across the goal from the left side of the box was struck crisply, but Higashiguchi was again a match for it and sent it round the post.

Sato had come on for Patric just before that chance, and six minutes later fulfilled his coach’s wishes to the joy of the over 2,000 Gamba fans in among the 56,758 in attendance at Saitama Stadium, coolly passing into the net from inside the box.

It was Reds’ first home loss in J1 since falling 1-0 to Sagan Tosu back on March 8, but the league leaders have now won just one of their last five games.

They next travel for the return against Tosu — a fixture they have yet to win since Sagan were promoted to J1 in 2012, losing 3-1 and 4-1 on their previous visits to Kyushu — and coach Mihailo Petrovic was bullish in defeat.

“Today we lost, but we still lead Gamba by two points and have two games to play. From tomorrow we will start to plan for Tosu,” he said.

Sagan still have a mathematical shot at the title themselves after they beat Tokushima Vortis 1-0, leaving them five points behind Reds, while Kashima Antlers, a point ahead of Tosu, also remain in the hunt after they defeated Kawasaki Frontale 2-1.


Samurai Blue edge rival Australia

I was at Nagai Stadium in Osaka on Tuesday night to see the latest clash between two of Asia’s prominent rivals, Japan and Australia. After the game I spoke to some of the key protagonists for The Japan News…

The Japan News, Thursday 20th November, 2014

OSAKA — The rivalry between Japan and Australia has steadily developed into one of the biggest in Asian soccer, and the latest clash between the sides — in which Japan edged 2-1 in Osaka on Tuesday night — demonstrated why the two are the favorites in January’s Asian Cup.

In the 2011 final, it took an extra-time wonder strike from Tadanari Lee to separate the teams, and after an unconvincing start to Javier Aguirre’s reign as coach, the serious business has begun for the Samurai Blue as they look to defend their crown.

“The coach expected it of us,” Keisuke Honda said of the victory, which came swiftly on the heels of a 6-0 drubbing of Honduras last Friday. “It wasn’t a test, he expected a result, and it’s good that we were able to achieve that.

“Australia were really good,” the AC Milan star continued. “They were aggressive and speedy yet didn’t make many mistakes on the counterattack. They didn’t make many errors and in the beginning we had to endure that. I think they are probably our strongest rivals for the Asian Cup, along with South Korea.”

Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was pleased with the way Japan weathered an early onslaught from the Socceroos, and feels it will give them belief as they target a fifth Asian title.

“It was a big test before the Asian Cup and in Australia, it was a good opponent,” the Standard Liege stopper said. “The biggest thing is that we were able to win. The opposition came aggressively, and we were able to deal with that and produce a good result. We’re a new team, and I think that will give us lots of confidence.”

Maya Yoshida said there are still creases to be ironed out.

“I think in the first half we didn’t play very well,” the Southampton defender explained. “In the second half, we could score two goals and played a little better, but I’m not satisfied with this result because we conceded one goal at the end of the game, and we should have scored a third goal as well.”

Aiming for 2018

Thankfully for Japan, two strikes were enough, and while Shinji Okazaki finding the net is no rare occurrence — his exquisite flick made it 40 goals for the national team — Yasuyuki Konno opening the scoring was unexpected, even for the man himself.

“I was surprised,” the Gamba Osaka veteran told The Japan News. “I’m not the kind of player who scores goals, and I was surprised to be able to convert one on this stage.”

Tim Cahill is no stranger to doing that, though, and his injury-time header was his fifth goal against Japan. The New York Red Bulls striker sees the holders as the team to beat if Australia is to taste victory in front of its own fans.

“I think we have to work really hard to get to the final, both countries. Japan’s one of Asia’s best and probably favorites for the tournament, regardless of us having it at home. You see the quality of their players all over the park and in stages in the second half, they changed gear a little.”

Japan starts its defense on Jan. 12 against Palestine before taking on Iraq on Jan. 16 and Jordan on Jan. 20. With the hosts in Group A and Japan in Group D, the earliest they could face each other would be the semifinals. If both were to top their respective groups, they would be kept apart until a possible reunion in the final.

“At home, hopefully it’s going to be a different story, and we can capitalize on it and put them in an uncomfortable environment when they come to Australia,” Cahill said. “If we meet.”

Konno does anticipate another rematch. “You don’t know if it will be the final or not, but I think we may meet them at some point,” the 31-year-old said. “I hope we can bring them down at that time.”


Joy of six for Aguirre Japan

Japan picked up their first comprehensive win of Javier Aguirre’s reign on Friday night, and after the 6-0 win over Honduras I spoke to some of the experienced players who contributed to the triumph for The Japan News…

The Japan News, Sunday 16th November, 2014

TOYOTA – Javier Aguirre declared the time for testing over when he announced his latest Japan squad, and with familiar faces back in the fold the Samurai Blue clicked smoothly into gear on Friday night.
After just one win in his first four games as Japan boss – and even that coming courtesy of an own goal against Jamaica – the Mexican recalled World Cup stalwarts Makoto Hasebe, Yasuhito Endo, and Atsuto Uchida, and the veterans instantly repaid his faith with instrumental roles in a 6-0 thrashing of Honduras in Toyota.
Hasebe previously trained under Aguirre in September but had to pull out of that month’s friendlies against Uruguay and Venezuela with a knee injury. The Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder was back in possession of the captain’s armband against Honduras though, and delighted with the way his return panned out.
“We scored an early goal and although the opponents occasionally threatened too we set the rhythm and when attacking were able to get into good positions a lot,” the 30-year-old said. “Having said that, it’s just one game and we have to keep going from here.
“I think that against a higher level of opposition, for me personally, I want to play better. There are still aspects that can be improved upon.”
Endo also enjoyed his national team comeback, sending in the corner that led to Maya Yoshida’s opener after nine minutes, then adding to the score himself just before half-time after Keisuke Honda had doubled the lead.
“I was aiming to strike it lower but caught it a bit sweetly,” the Gamba Osaka man said of his rasping effort. “Still, a goal’s a goal and that made it 3-0 which effectively finished the game so I’m glad I was able to convert the decisive strike.”

Japan v. Honduras, Toyota Stadium, 14th November, 2014

Japan didn’t stop there though and added a further trio of goals in the second half, Takashi Inui and Yohei Toyoda grabbing their first national team strikes before Inui doubled his tally to wrap things up.
“As a forward you have to convert the chances when they’re there for you,” Sagan Tosu striker Toyoda, who is tied at the top of the J1 scoring charts with 15 goals this year, said.
“Today is big for me but I’m never satisfied and know that even though it’s difficult I have to score more and more goals.”
Aguirre will certainly be demanding more of his troops now that they have shown what they are capable of, and Endo is impressed with his latest boss.
“I think he’s passionate and up until now we haven’t had that type of coach for the national team,” the 34-year-old, playing his 147th game for his fifth permanent Japan coach, said of the former Atletico Madrid tactician. “When he needs to be strict he’s strict – that gives us a good pressure so I think he’s a good coach for Japan.”
Hasebe also appreciates Aguirre’s style. “[He] doesn’t tell us exactly what to do when we’re out on the pitch. He gives us hints of what he wants – ‘something like this’ – but once we’re on the pitch it’s up to us.”
With almost 230 caps between them both players know that the real work starts now, with Australia up next in Osaka on Tuesday then the Asian Cup in January.
“Of course we are expected to win games like today and building confidence depends on getting wins,” Endo said. “In the four games so far maybe the team hasn’t been able to record results that they are satisfied with, but hopefully this game can act as a springboard and we can go on to play an even better game against Australia and then take that on into the Asian Cup.”
“I think Australia will present a tougher challenge,” Hasebe added. “Defensively I will have to think more and make sure I connect well with the players around me – that goes for the team as a whole.”

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