SAITAMA (majirox news) — A 94th minute goal to defender Maya Yoshida saved Japan from embarrassment against arch-rival North Korea, giving it a 1-0 win in its Group C Asian qualifying group match at a sold-out Saitama Stadium on Sept. 2.
Asian Champion Japan dominated its rival ranked almost 100 places below them in its first match on the road to qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but the 15th-ranked team failed to convert despite persistent assaults on the North Korean goal.
North Korea, rated as 114th in the world, had been reduced to 10 men from the 82nd minute after Pak Kwang-Ryong was given a red card for a vicious tackle on Japan’s Yasuhito Endo, yet Japan was still unable to press its advantage.
Just when it seemed the North Koreans — playing in Japan for the first time in more than six years — would go home with a well-earned point, Yoshida headed a cross from the right corner into the net in what was the culmination of a frenzied few minutes of repeated assaults on the Cholima goal.
Coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who maintained his unbeaten record at the helm of the Japan National Team, was relieved after the match.
“They were very patient, right up to the end,” the Italian told reporters after the match.
Endo, superb in the midfield, welcomed the win.
“It was a win and will lead on to the future,” he said after the match.
Japan’s win was a deserved one, having dominated possession throughout the match, getting almost twice as much of the ball as the North Koreans. However, Japan failed to break through the North Korean defense marshaled by Kashiwa Reysol veteran An Yong-Hak, and occasionally superb keeping from Ri Kwang-Chon.
North Korea appeared content to repel Japan’s attacks and counter when opportunities arrived, but never really seriously threatened the Japanese defense and goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was barely troubled throughout the night.
Somewhat lethargic in attack during a first half swamped by a huge downpour from a typhoon approaching the Kanto area and hot and humid conditions, the Blue Samurai gained spark in the second half as midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi was substituted for Hiroshi Kiyotake in the 59th minute. Shortly after the Cerezo Osaka striker had almost immediate effect with two shots in rapid succession. Mike Havenaar, making his national team debut, came on in the 69th minute for Tadanari Lee, and provided plenty of chances for Japan without being able to put any goals in the net.
Japan’s next match will be against 82nd-ranked Uzbekistan in Tashkent on Sept. 6. Tajikistan, ranked by FIFA at 153, is the other country competing in Group C. Each of the four teams plays home and away, with the top two teams progressing on to the next round of qualifying.