Zaccheroni inspires Japan to shock victory over Argentina

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The Independent Football

Japan shocked Lionel Messi's Argentina 1-0 last night in their first match under new Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni.

Striker Shinji Okazaki stabbed home the winner in the 19th minute to give the Blue Samurai their first ever victory over the twice World Cup winners in front of 57,000 fans in Saitama.

"I'm delighted," Zaccheroni said. "It was an important test facing such big opponents as Argentina. I told my players that if they believed in themselves they could win."

Messi proved Argentina's most dangerous weapon despite only just recovering from an ankle injury, but it was Japan who took a surprise lead inside the first 20 minutes.

Captain Makoto Hasebe's long-range drive was parried by goalkeeper Sergio Romero and Okazaki pounced to force home the loose ball.

Messi and Carlos Tevez in particular came close on several occasions but Japan's defence stood firm to deliver their coach a famous win.

Argentina's Internazionale duo of Diego Milito and Esteban Cambiasso both limped out of the friendly in the first half and their club said in a statement that they had suffered muscle problems and would be assessed in the coming days.

European champions Inter have been dogged by injuries so far this term and the loss of last season's top scorer and their most consistent midfielder would be a blow, although fit-again captain Javier Zanetti hopes to return at Cagliari next Sunday.

Nigeria's international ban was provisionally lifted by Fifa yesterday, two days before the team's Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Guinea.

Fifa, which suspended the West African nation over political interference in the sport on Monday, said the situation had improved and delayed the ban until later this month.

Meanwhile, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) said that Sunday's match in Conakry would go ahead as planned.

Nigeria, who narrowly escaped an international ban in July over the government's threat to pull them out of international competition, beat Madagascar 2-0 in their opening group match last month.

Fifa said in a statement that the acting general secretary of the Nigerian federation (NFF) had been allowed to return to his post and the government had stopped its interference in the Nigerian League.

The world governing body said there had also been assurances that a court case involving the NFF would be dropped. It set 26 October as the deadline for that to be confirmed.

"However, should the NFF still be embroiled in court actions or any other issue preventing it from working freely on that date, the suspension will be automatically confirmed until all problems have been definitively solved," added Fifa.

The incident was the latest chapter in the chaotic administration of Nigerian soccer in which national team coaches are hired and fired with astonishing regularity and directors and politicians are continually fighting.

Nigeria were also banned by CAF in 1996 when the country's then president, Sani Abacha, withdrew the team from the Africa Cup of Nations finals in South Africa because he had been criticised by Nelson Mandela over the judicial execution of political opponents.

As a result, Nigeria missed the following Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso in 1998.

Nigeria have played at the World Cup four times, twice reaching the last 16, and won the Cup of Nations twice, but many feel it is a disappointing record for such a populous, football-mad country.

Nigeria were knocked out in the first round at the World Cup in South Africa this summer after failing to win a game, prompting the president, Goodluck Jonathan, to order the team's withdrawal from international soccer for the next two years.

As Fifa threatened to suspend the Nigerian federation, Jonathan reversed his decision after the federation agreed to disband the team and after appeals from Nigerians including former leaders.