Japan suffered from some calamitous defending at Southampton yesterday, and subsequently drew a friendly international they might otherwise have won comfortably. The culprit was Naoki Matsuda, their right-sided defender, who followed a first-half own goal with an elementary mistake that presented Julius Aghahowa of shooting Nigeria's second equaliser.
Matsuda's mistakes cost Japan's French coach, Philippe Troussier, the opportunity he craved of putting one over his opponents. Nigeria had unceremoniously sacked Troussier almost as soon as he had guided them to the 1998 World Cup finals. Now in charge of Japan, with whom he won the Asian Championships in Lebanon last year, Troussier could have done with more favourable weather yesterday as, indeed, could everyone. Yet the torrential rain and near-gale force winds that frequently made a mockery of control could not conceal the fact that both sides have much to do before next year's World Cup finals.
Passes skidded out of play on one flank and squelched to a stop in a cloud of spray on the other, to the amusement of Japan's exiled and bedraggled supporters who maintained their shrill chants throughout. Among the 11,809 crowd was the Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, who doubtless left convinced that his midfielder Junichi Inamoto is still some way short of justifying a regular first-team play at Highbury. Japan, nevertheless, were worth the lead given them after 26 minutes by Atsushi Yanagisawa with a glancing header.
Matsuda ensured that Nigeria were level within a minute when the ball skidded off his outstretched leg after Eric Ejiofor had returned Augustin Okocha's corner into the middle. But for a stupendous flying save by Japan's Portsmouth-bound goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi from a volley beautifully struck by Ipswich's Finidi George, Nigeria would have been ahead by half-time.
The game continued on its haphazard way after the interval, by when Nigeria had introduced yet another Premiership player, Celestine Babayaro. Chelsea's wing-back was among the clutch of defenders who failed to prevent Takayuki Suzuki, a half-time substitute, from reaching Toshihiro Hattori's free-kick first to regain Japan's lead.
Nigeria's second goal, driven in low by Aghahowa, came after Matsuda had failed lamentably to cut out a searching pass from the excellent Okocha. Aghahowa somersaulted his way spectacularly into the arms of his team-mates, who finished a man short after Ejiofor was sent off in the last minute for two bookable offences.
Goals: Yanagisawa (26) 1-0; Matsuda og (27) 1-1; Suzuki (57) 2-1; Aghahowa (81) 2-2.
Japan (3-5-2): Kawaguchi; Matsuda, Miyamoto, Nakata; Hato (Hiroyama, h-t), Ito (Fukunishi, 77), Toda, Inamoto (Oku 69), Ono (Hattori, h-t); Nishizawa (Suzuki, h-t), Yanagisawa.
Nigeria (4-4-2): Shoronmu; Udeze (Babayaro, 54), Ejiofor, Okoronkwu, Ojigwe; George, Oliseh, Okocha, Babangida (Aghahowa, 54); Agali (Lawal, 73), Aiyegbeni.
Referee: S Dunn (England).
Attendance: 11,801.Reuse content