Japan seals group behind Honda, Kagawa

Keisuke Honda and Japan made it three from three at the Asian Cup on Tuesday night, and I was in Melbourne to see their 2-0 win over Jordan…

The Japan News, Wednesday 21st January, 2015

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Japan made sure of an Asian Cup quarterfinal berth on Tuesday, defeating Jordan 2-0 thanks to strikes from Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.

Honda fired the Samurai Blue into the lead in the 24th minute with his third goal in as many games, and Kagawa made sure of the points in the 82nd minute to set up a clash with the United Arab Emirates in Sydney on Friday.

Japan only needed a draw to make sure of top spot in Group D, but started the game full of intent and never looked like it was going to settle for a share of the spoils.

Javier Aguirre’s side dominated possession in the opening exchanges, and won a series of freekicks around the Jordan penalty area.

Honda came the closest from these attempts in the 17th minute, but while his trademark effort from 30 meters was caught cleanly and picked up a tricky bobble as it flew towards goal, Jordan goalkeeper Amer Shafi was able to deal with it easily enough.

Japan continued to circulate the ball at ease, switching effortlessly from side to side and seeking out the pockets of space within which to punish Jordan. The opener came from one such swift exchange in the 24th minute.

Captain Makoto Hasebe played a short pass into the feet of Inui around 25 meters from goal, and he in turn sent a sharp ball into the left of the penalty area for Shinji Okazaki to chase. Japan’s No. 9 struck an early effort across goal with his left foot which Shafi could only parry to the back post, where Honda was arriving late.

The AC Milan playmaker had missed a similar chance in the last game against Iraq, striking against the post with the goal at his mercy, but made no such mistake this time around, sending the ball across the line and wheeling away to celebrate.

Japan v. Jordan, Melbourne, Tuesday 20th January, 2015

Masato Morishige almost doubled Japan’s lead five minutes later, but Shafi was equal to his header from a corner on the left, tipping it over the bar.

Still Japan bossed possession and could have added to the score in the 37th minute. Kagawa ferreted away in the middle of the park and sent Okazaki scampering in behind again. This time the Mainz striker didn’t have any support and opted to go for the near post, but misjudged his effort slightly and sent it into the sidenetting.

Jordan was slightly more expansive at the start of the second period, but the further it advanced the more chances Japan had to catch it on the counter.

In the 55th minute one such break ended with Yasuhito Endo being found in space on the right by Kagawa. The Gamba Osaka midfielder cut inside to make the angle for a shot, but on his weaker left foot failed to make the proper connection and sent it over the crossbar.

Two minutes later Monther Abu Amara almost made Japan pay for failing to supplement its lead. The Jordan substitute tricked his way inside the right side of the Japan penalty area and drew a save from Eiji Kawashima, who had to get down quickly at his near post to snuff out the danger.

That was the closest the Jordanians came, however, and Maya Yoshida, Honda, and Kagawa all had chances to add to the scoreline before Kagawa finally found the net with eight minutes to play.

Yoshinori Muto was sent free down the left wing and timed his cut-back to perfection for the Borussia Dortmund star to convert as he arrived in the center of the box.

Japan now has just two full days to prepare for its game with the UAE, the winner of which will face a semifinal against either Australia or China in Newcastle on Tue. 27.


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