Japan's under-23s outclass New Zealand

By Jeremy Walker
TOKYO--The Olympic flame is burning brightly for Japanese soccer after a stylish 4-0 victory over New Zealand in an under-23 international at Tokyo's National Stadium on Wednesday night.
Japan qualified for the Sydney Olympics with a perfect 12-0 win-loss record last year, scoring 66 goals and conceding only three in the process.
This exciting, attacking brand of soccer brought 36,467 faithful fans to the stadium, a remarkable turn-out for a friendly match at this age level against such modest opposition.
Japan and New Zealand have one thing in common--they have both qualified for the World Cup finals on one occasion, the Kiwis in 1982 and Japan in 1998--but clearly the Japanese are in a different league on the international stage these days.
This was evident in all aspects of play, from the well-organised defence, through the creative midfield to the clinical finishing.
Japan, in fact, could have scored several more if national coach Philippe Troussier had not made five substitutions to give his players every opportunity of winning a place in the 18-strong squad for Sydney.
While the result would have increased the confidence of Japan's players and the optimism of the fans, the New Zealanders could be consoled by the fact that their two-leg play-off against South Africa for a place in Sydney could not be any harder.
Japan opened the scoring with a world-class goal in the 18th minute.
Striker Naohiro Takahara was fouled 10 metres outside the penalty box and to the left of centre, ideal for the left-footed playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura to show his dead-ball skills.
First, Nakamura touched the ball to Masashi Motoyama, who trapped it and stood back to admire the result, rather like an adult lighting the blue touch paper of an expensive firework for an eager audience.
The result was equally spectacular, as Nakamura curled the ball over the wall and into the far corner with power and precision.
Takahara himself scored the next two, in the 40th and 58th minutes, and both goals proved his predatory instincts in the penalty box.
For his first goal, he chested down a ricochet, turned smartly and thumped a left-foot shot into the corner. His second was a first-time finish with his right foot to a loose ball when Kiwi keeper Robbie Barraclough could not hold an outswinging left-wing cross from the impressive Nakamura.
Japan's fourth goal was scored in the 63rd minute by Hiromi Kojima, who owed a big debt of gratitude to his Gamba Osaka team-mate Junichi Inamoto for working his way deep into the Kiwi penalty area.
There would be several more near misses as the ball flashed across the New Zealand goal for the rest of the game, but no more goals. Still, Japan's players were cheered off by a boisterous crowd, and coach Troussier was in upbeat mood after the game.
"It was a logical result when looking at the level of the two countries; a complete victory, but we must not get too carried away by it," said the Frenchman.
"The performance showed my players are in a good frame of mind psychologically, and also that they enjoyed playing, which is very important."