The New Zealand All Whites battled bravely, but went down in the final moments to Japan in wet conditions in Nagoya last night.
The World No 40, who recently qualified for their sixth successive FIFA World Cup, showed their quality throughout the 2-1 win, but were taken all the way by a New Zealand side who played with plenty of heart and fight.
The Samurai Blue went ahead shortly after half-time when centre-half Andrew Durante was ruled by referee Man Kowk Liu to have handled the ball. Yuya Osako buried the penalty in the back of the net.
Anthony Hudson’s side rallied in fine fashion and scored eight minutes later when midfielder Marco Rojas set up striker Chris Wood with a beautiful ball which he headed home from close range. Following the goal, the All Whites were the dominant team and they had another couple of goal-scoring chances which they did not convert.
The home team finished the stronger of the two sides and got the late winner when substitute Shu Kurata was on hand to dive and hit a low header in the 87th minute.
It was a cruel blow for the All Whites in their final game before the Intercontinental Playoff as they held their own with the world class opposition for long periods and deserved more from the game.
“My initial feeling is of huge disappointment,” New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson said.
“We did so well and showed so much character and fight to get back into the game at a very difficult place. We are disappointed because we were so close to getting a huge result away from home. At the same time, I am incredibly proud of the players because we said at the beginning if this was a two-legged affair, home and away, we are still very much in the tie.”
Hudson was proud of the way his team responded to going 1-0 down in front of a vocal and parochial crowd which is an encouraging sign with the fifth-ranked South American team in mind.
“We did so well to get back into the game and I am there thinking to myself we would love to play these types of games all the time. Because I think we are a very good team and the more time we have playing these sides the more we will learn, but certainly with the mentality of a two-legged affair, we were so close to getting a big point but we had five minutes at the end where we were disappointing so we have learned a lot,” he said.
A good crowd of 38,461 came out a cold and wet night in Nagoya and the Japanese came fast out of the blocks in a frenetic start which put the 2016 OFC Nations Cup champions under pressure.
With their pace and speed of transition, Yuya Kubo, Yuya Osako and Shinjio Kagawa created a lot of chances going forward but were frustrated by the New Zealand defence – with skipper Winston Reid back – who fought for everything. Some of it was good defending, while at other times it was poor finishing the most notable of the latter was Shinji Kagawa who hit the post from 12 yards out.
“It wasn’t the start that we wanted,” Hudson said.
“We can prepare and talk all we want but then the whistle bows and the game starts and a team like Japan are quick and attack you … we need to learn how to handle those situations better. After 20 minutes we started to relax and rightly so we started to do what we set out to do at the beginning. We know that we can’t start that way.”
Even though it wasn’t the start they wanted the visitors were still on level terms. In fact they could have gone ahead midway through the first half when Rojas picked out Wood with a long ball. The forward controlled it well but blazed his left foot shot over the bar.
The home team went into the break wondering how they hadn’t scored and the home crowd had something to cheer shortly after the restart in one of the game’s talking points.
The Kiwis surrounded the referee to debate the decision on Durante’s hand-ball but were quickly waved away. Japan’s man-of-the moment Osako hammered the penalty home to All Whites goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic’s left.
It proved just the tonic for the All Whites to come back into the match. All of the sudden they held the ball for long periods and were the dominant team.
That showed soon after on the scoreboard when Rojas jinked and weaved on the by-line and found striker Wood with a perfect ball in front of goal. The big Burnley No 9 finished with a powerful header. It was his third from two games against the Samurai Blue and his 24th from his 54th internationals.
Hudson went to the bench and Japan finished the stronger of the two teams and were able to clinch the win with three minutes of regulation time to play.
After going 2-1 down, New Zealand appeared to have a good shout of their own for a hand-ball at the other end but it was not given. The All Whites were left to rue one that got away but will have a chance to make amends in a few weeks’ time in the biggest window of the year.
Story courtesy of New Zealand Football