Japan national coach Takeshi Okada saluted his side after Shunji Okazaki’s early strike saw off Uzbekistan 1-0 in Tashkent to secure qualification for the 2010 World Cup on Saturday.
“We expected a tough battle today and the match was really tough,” Okada said after Japan became the first team to qualify for South Africa.
“But we played according to our plan and managed to clinch a very important win.
“I’m very pleased with my players’ performance. They did a very good job. They played with heart but it was a very well-disciplined performance,” opined Okada, despite a late red card for Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe – and one for Okada himself.
“I was furious with the referee, said Okada.
“When I was advising my players, he sent me off. I can’t believe it. But my players were patient, they did really well.”
The win lifted Japan top of their Asian final qualifying round Group A with 14 points from six matches comprising four wins and two draws.
It will be a fourth straight appearance in the finals for the former Asian champions, who made a win-less debut in the 1998 tournament in France.
Okada added he was not planning any major changes in his team’s remaining qualifying matches with tickets for South Africa assured.
“We were playing very well today. I think we should continue playing this style in the remaining matches.”
Japan clinched their passage with Okazaki’s solitary strike after just nine minutes.
Okazaki took a through ball from Kengo Nakamura and although his shot was saved by Uzbek goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov, the striker netted the rebound.
The margin could have been greater as, on 12 minutes, dead-ball specialist Yasuhito Endo’s free kick slammed against the post and Wolfsburg forward Yoshito Okubo fired in the rebound only to be ruled offside.
The Uzbeks escaped again when, just after the break, Okubo’s shot from close range hit the woodwork.
“This away game was really tough,” said a jubilant Okazaki.
“I’m really happy, because I’ve scored only in friendly games. This time, I feel like I did very well for the Japanese team.”
Uzbekistan fought valiantly to harry their visitors and disrupt their passing game but failed to create a clear scoring chance.
Okada’s Uzbeki counterpart Mirjalol Kasymov congratulated Japan.
“Our team made the decisive mistake early in the match allowing Japan to score a goal,” Kasymov said. “That goal changed the situation completely.”
“But we did all we could do today. We have nothing to reproach ourselves about.”
Uzbekistan, who have garnered just one win and one draw from their six qualifiers, play Bahrain in their last qualifying match on June 17.
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