Inamoto goal gives Japan its first victory

Junichi Inamoto scored his second goal of the tournament Sunday as Japan earned its first World Cup finals victory after beating Russia 1-0 in Group H.

updated: February 25, 2007 09:27 IST
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Yokohama, Japan:

Junichi Inamoto scored his second goal of the tournament Sunday as Japan earned its first World Cup finals victory after beating Russia 1-0 in Group H at International Stadium Yokohama. Atsushi Yanagisawa tipped a pass from the midfield to the open Inamoto near the front of the goal in the 51st minute. The Arsenal midfielder then sent his shot over the head of Russia goalkeeper Ruslan Nigmatullin. "Now our main goal is to qualify (for the next round)," Japan coach Philippe Troussier said. Japan, playing in its second World Cup finals, now has four points from its two matches while Russia has three. Belgium is third with one point and Tunisia is last with zero, each from one match. Belgium plays Tunisia on Monday in Oita. In the final group matches Friday, Japan takes on Tunisia while Belgium plays Russia. "You're never happy with a loss, but the only consolation is that the tournament continues," Russia coach Oleg Romantsev said. "What we do like is that everything is in our hands. We win and we go forward." Russia, which beat Tunisia 2-0 in its opening match, had an excellent chance to equalize in the 58th minute, but Vladimir Beschastnykh who came on as a substitute a minute earlier sent his close-range shot at an open goal into the side netting. "The individual skills are the problem. We have to score when we have the opportunities like we had," Romantsev said. Valery Karpin tried to get his team the lead in the 47th, but his rolling cross from deep in the area went across the goalmouth untouched and out of danger. Dmitri Sychev had three late chances, but Japan goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki made three easy saves. Japan, hoping to avoid the distinction of being the first World Cup host to fail to advance to the second round, attacked relentlessly throughout most of the match while playing solid defense to keep the Russians frustrated. Hidetoshi Nakata nearly made it 2-0 in the 71st, blasting in a shot from way out that sailed over the reach of the jumping 'keeper but smashed off the cross bar. In the first half, Nakata had two chances for Japan, but both his shots were off target. Inamoto, who also scored in Japan's first match against Belgium, blasted one over the top in the fifth minute. Inamoto had another chance in the 37th minute, but his header was well off the mark. "I'm very proud of being head coach of this team. Obviously this is a very big moment for Japan, for Japanese soccer and for the Japanese nation," Troussier said. Russia's best first-half chance came in the 40th minute as one of the Europeans' few attacks made it into the Japanese area. Andrei Solomatin ran a ball deep into Japanese territory and left it back for Igor Semshov, who was brought down by Kazuyuki Toda before reaching the ball. In the 32nd, Egor Titov rolled a nice ball into the area for Ruslan Pimenov, but Narazaki got there first. Earlier, Yuri Nikiforov blasted a free kick wide in the 17th. "In the first half we didn't do that well, we didn't control the game, but after the break we had some chances but the Japanese had more luck," Romantsev said. The Japanese team was cheered on by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Lineups:Japan: 12-Seigo Narazaki, 3-Naoki Matsuda, 5-Junichi Inamoto (15-Takashi Fukunishi, 85), 7-Hidetoshi Nakata, 11-Takayuki Suzuki (10-Masashi Nakayama, 72), 13-Atsushi Yanagisawa, 16-Koji Nakata, 17-Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (c), 18-Shinji Ono (6-Toshihiro Hattori, 76), 20-Tomokazu Myojin, 21-Kazuyuki Toda. Russia: 1-Ruslan Nigmatullin, 2-Yuri Kovtun, 3-Yuri Nikiforov, 4-Alexei Smertin (11-Vladimir Beschastnykh, 57), 5-Andrei Solomatin, 6-Igor Semshov, 7-Viktor Onopko (c), 8-Valery Karpin, 9-Egor Titov, 19-Ruslan Pimenov (22-Dmitri Sychev, 46), 20-Marat Izmailov (21-Dmitry Khokhlov, 52). Referee: Markus Merk (Germany).