Catania forward Takayuki Morimoto's first international goal has boosted Japan's dream of making the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ semi-finals, adding extra firepower to a team lacking a top-notch striker.
"Morimoto's first goal. Ready to solve the shortage of finishing power!" exclaimed a headline in the Sports Hochi daily on Thursday, the morning after Japan blanked a second-string Togo 5-0 at home in Sendai. The 21-year-old Morimoto, who has scored three goals in Italy's Serie A this season, made his international debut in Japan's 2-0 win over an under-strength Scotland four nights earlier.
He chalked up Japan's third goal against Togo in the 11th minute, trapping a low cross from Yuto Nagatomo and swivelling to rifle home. "The young talent, who has polished his skills in Serie A, had his presence felt as a valuable weapon with the World Cup only eight months away," Nikkan Sports said.
Morimoto, who made the starting line-up alongside J-League Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki, said he played well. "I got the ball the way I expected. I got a pass whenever I moved. It made my work easy. I want to keep on repeating it," said Morimoto, who moved to Catania in August 2006 after two years with J-League side Tokyo Verdy.
Japan coach Takeshi Okada, who tested the Italian marksman only in the first 45 minutes against Togo, said: "He may still have a lot of things to do before making the first team. But I think he is already good enough as a trump card."
Okazaki scored a hat-trick against Togo, who arrived in Japan with only 14 players after eight pulled out, including Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor. Togo lost 3-0 to Cameroon on Saturday and missed a ticket to South Africa 2010.
Asked if he could establish himself in the Blue Samurai, who have plenty of midfielders but lack world-class forwards, Morimoto replied: "I want to work hard each and every day." Espanyol midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura, a key figure in Japan's World Cup campaign, cautioned though that Morimoto was "still slow in switching between offense and defence."
Japan, who qualified for the FIFA World Cup by finishing second to Australia in Asian Group A, travel to Johannesburg to play another friendly against South Africa on 14 November. Coach Okada, who piloted Japan to a winless World Cup debut in 1998, is aiming for a last four spot in South Africa. The country's best finish so far was the last 16 in 2002, when they co-hosted the tournament with South Korea.