Sharp Japan pass test

Football: Sweden2 (K Andersson 53, 69) Japan2 (Fujita 9, Kurosaki 86) Attendance: 5,591
Click to follow
The Independent Online
A WOODEN SPOON match at the City Ground yesterday, perhaps, but Japan's visit for the Umbro Cup has shown that although Brazil may have devoured them, in the foreseeable future they could be sitting at the same table as leading countries like Sweden, whose reserve strength here was sorely tested.

For the Swedes, the competition has been a commitment that, in the light of their damaging European Championship draw with Iceland last week and their painfully long list of injuries, they could have done without. For Japan, it has been another example of how keen they are to progress internationally.

Sweden's discomfort was quickly exploited by Japanese determination. Although packing midfield almost as tightly as a Tokyo metro platform, Japan transported themselves from that area to attack with impressive speed. The result was that, after only nine minutes, they were pounding the Swedish goalmouth. A powerful shot from Toshiya Fujita came back to his feet off Pontus Kamark and he did much better with the second attempt, finding the inside of the far post beyond Thomas Ravelli's forlorn dive.

Having achieved that, Japan thoroughly irritated what was a much below strength and par Swedish side by pointing out their weaknesses with some penetrating passes from Motohiro Yamaguchi, whose ability to release players wide would have enlivened many a Premiership game this season.

Where the Japanese players are most adept is in their first touch, which invariably keeps them in possession or creates safety. This alone caused Sweden to find it difficult to get any sort of hold on the game and it was, of course, one of the reasons why England had also been embarrassed.

Had an optimistic 30-yard lob from Fujita dropped a few inches lower, Sweden would have been hard pressed to get back in the game but, as it was, after 53 minutes of frustration they eventually pulled level when Ola Andersson touched a free-kick to Kennet Andersson, who found a hole in the defensive wall to score from well outside the penalty area. West Ham fans take heart - he could be one of yours next season.

Kennet Andersson's composure was a feature of Sweden's otherwise unusually ill-controlled performance. It came to their rescue again in the 70th minute, when another free-kick caused the Japanese defence to panic and leave space for Andersson to comfortably control a bouncing ball eight yards out and stroke it past Kenichi Shimokawa.

Never likely to concede, Japan deservedly equalised with five minutes to go when some haphazard Swedish defending left Hisashi Kurosaki alone in the penalty area and with Ravelli unable to do anything about his shot.

Sweden (4-4-2): Ravelli (IFK Gothenburg); Sundgren (AIK Solna), Lucic (Vastra Frolunda), Bjorklund (IFK Gothenburg), Kamark (IFK Gothenburg); Alexandersson (Halmstads), Wibran (Osters Vaxjo), O Andersson (AIK Solna), Gudmundsson (Halmstads); Larsson (Feyenoord), K Andersson (Caen). Sub: M Nilsson (IFK Gothenburg) for Gudmundsson, 75.

Japan (1-2-5-2): Shimokawa (JEF United Ichihara); Hashiratani (Verdy Kawasaki); Ihara (Yokohama Marinos), Omura (Yokohama Marinos); Soma (Kashima Antlers), Kitazawa (Verdy Kawasaki), Yamaguchi (Yokohama Flugels), Fujita (Jubilo Iwata), Narahashi (Bellmare Hiratsuka); Kurosaki (Kashima Antlers), Miura (Genoa). Subs: Moriyasu (Sanfrecce Hiroshima) for Fujita, 72; Fukuda (Urawa Red Diamonds) for Kitazawa, 83; Yanagimoto (Sanfrecce Hiroshima) for Narahashi, 85.

Referee: A Amendolia (Italy).