The home of the Urawa Reds, Saitama Stadium was packed as usual. Whilst the pitch wasn’t in the best condition the home team served up the standard fare for a Japan international. They were slick, persistent and winners.
The match began with Iraq applying a physical challenge but soon Japan were on top. Nagatomo’s stinging shot from the left edge was a sign of things to come. Samurai Blue showed a preference for the left side and Kiyotake and Nagatomo look a great combination.
Iraq found themselves with an early opportunity when Hammadi Ahmed had the ball land at his feet from a corner in the 21st minute. Unfortunately his shot was deflected to the bye line with no corner called. Moments late Japan were ahead 1-nil via a Ryoichi Maeda header. The Jubilo Iwata forward has made a career out of using his head, and tonight was no different. This time he was on the end of some quick thinking by Komano whose throw in was chased to bye line by Okazaki (Stuttgart) and lobbed across goal. 1-nil in the 25th minute.
The remainder of the first half saw Honda marked out of the game with much of his work limited to link play with Kiyotake down the left. On the eve of half time Japan reiterated their intentions with Endo’s shot from range. The Iraqi defence deflecting it clear.
Despite no Kagawa (non starter) Samurai Blue were still full of verve with Okazaki’s contribution notable. Iraq came out with enterprise early in the second half winning some corners but nothing eventuated. The match then returned to the same rhythm as the first half. Iraq forced to play deep and try their luck on the counter.
Again Japan’s best efforts came from the left side with another great link up by Kiyotake who set Nagatomo free down the left for a rapid fire cross into Honda (25th min). The Moscow resident headed over though. Younis’ introduction for Iraq gave a burst of energy but he’s involvement was limited to long balls out of defence. A definite highlight for Iraq was the dribbling effort of Jasim Kerrar as the away team began to try their luck. The midfielder took the ball from near the halfway and tricked his way deep into box. Moments later his long range shot was on target but straight to the hands of keeper Kawashima.
Japan were stirred into action and the remaining 5 minutes of the match were dictated by Samurai Blue. A number of corners resulted but the home team were unable to capitalise. Zaccheroni made his only two substitutions in the 89th and 90th minutes. Kiyotake and Maeda replaced by Hosogai and Havenaar respectively.
The home team ran out 1-nil winners with a stubborn Iraq providing decent opposition. Once again the result will leave questions lingering over Japan’s ability to finish as the weight of possession was heavily in favour of Japan. Iraq did their best against a fitter and faster opponent and the visitors will still fancy themselves a chance of gaining the second automatic qualifying place from Group B.