Japan comfortably overcame New Zealand at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis on Wednesday 18 June in the opening encounter of the FIFA Confederations Cup France 2003. A brace from Shansuke Nakamura and one from Hidetoshi Nakata saw the Asian side cruise to victory to set them up nicely in Group A, where they still have to face France and Colombia. For New Zealand though, the result is a disappointing start to their campaign.
Japan coach Zico sent out a resolutely attacking side, led from the front by talisman Hidetoshi Nakata, and was rewarded for his approach. Pulling the strings from midfield alongside Junichi Inamoto, ‘Hide’ was in sparkling form in the first half - bringing balls under instant control, quick to move into space and then able to find just the right pass for dashing striking duo Yoshito Okubo and Shunsuke Nakamura. The first goal of this FIFA Confederations Cup was not long in coming. Takahara picked up a loose ball in the centre circle and spread it out wide to Yoshito Okubo on the right wing. His first-time cross fell to Nakata, who, for once, failed to kill the ball and it ran on to Shunsuke Nakamura, whose left-foot shot squeezed inside the far post giving New Zealand keeper Mike Utting no chance (0:1, 12’).
New Zealand were stunned, and Japan could – and probably should - have killed the game. Well-organised all over the park, technically gifted and now blessed with that all-important ingredient - big match experience, the Nippon side carved out chance after chance. Okubo nearly got in past Ryan Nelsen only for the Kiwi defender to get in a last-gasp tackle. Takahara then had a goal-bound attempt deflected and headed just wide from the resulting corner (21’). Okubo was causing havoc down the flanks, and another of his volleyed centres nearly saw Takahara in on goal again (32’). Then it was Nakamura’s turn to come close with a cross-shot (40’) and Takahara, again, to miss with a diving header (43’).
Mick Waitt’s "All-Whites" were obviously relieved to go in only one goal down at the interval, and set about things in a more positive frame of mind in the second half. Ivan Vicelich at last troubled Seigo Narazaki with a tricky header on 54 minutes, but that was to prove the New Zealander’s only real effort of note. Nakata then decided to take matters into his own hands. The man from Parma, perhaps sensing stirring Kiwi ambitions, burst clear and hit a sweet strike from 20 metres out that left Utting grasping thin air (0:2, 65’) .
Zico’s boys wrapped things up ten minutes later when Nakamura found space on the penalty spot and steered a header past the helpless Utting (0:3, 75’). The Reggina midfielder has every reason to feel very satisfied with his first outing in the FIFA Confederations Cup then - and the same can be said of the whole Japanese team.