Franco-Bosnian Halilhodzic, Japan's new national soccer team coach, walks past a logo of Japan Football Association as he leaves a news conference in Tokyo
Vahid Halilhodzic


Goal-hungry Japan floored Uzbekistan 5-1 with an explosive performance in a friendly on Tuesday, with young guns Takashi Usami and Gaku Shibasaki pointing to a bright future for the Blue Samurai.

Shibasaki scored Japan’s third on 80 minutes with an outrageous lob from just inside the Uzbekistan half, before fellow substitute Usami capped a superb cameo by slamming in a fourth soon afterwards.

Toshihiro Aoyama triggered the rout after just six minutes in Tokyo with a sumptuous long-range volley and Shinji Okazaki doubled the home side’s lead nine minutes into the second half with a classic poacher’s strike.

The floodgates opened after Shibasaki’s stunner. Uzbekistan replied two minutes later through Islom Tukhtakhujaev, only for Usami to slalom past three defenders and smash home his first goal for Japan. 

There was still time for Kengo Kawamata to register his own maiden goal for his country, completing a perfect week for new coach Vahid Halilhodzic after Friday’s 2-0 win over Tunisia. 

Five of Japan’s seven goals under the Franco-Bosnian have come from substitutes. 

“It was a spectacular display,” said Halilhodzic, who replaced Javier Aguirre after the Mexican was sacked over allegations of match-fixing dating back to his time in Spain. 

“I’d like to say ‘Bravo!’ to the players. To score five goals is special. Nonetheless we won’t get carried away as there is still work to be done.”

Japan have looked unrecognisable, albeit against modest opposition, from the side which lurched from one crisis to another under Aguirre and Italian Alberto Zaccheroni over the past year.

Talisman Keisuke Honda and playmaker Shinji Kagawa, whose confidence had been shattered after Japan flopped at last year’s World Cup and again at the Asian Cup in January, were buzzing. 

Okazaki and Honda scored the goals against Tunisia and they led by example again in a one-sided game watched by 46,000.

Halilhodzic, who steered Algeria to the knockout stages of the World Cup in Brazil, pumped his fists after Usami’s goal vindicated his decision to give youth a chance in his first two games.

“It finally feels like my Japan career has begun,” said Usami, who used to draw gasps from Bayern Munich’s superstars with his skills at training during a loan spell in 2011-12. 

“I got long enough on the pitch to show the coach what I can do,” added the 22-year-old. “I think I did that.”

Halilhodzic has been given a contract through the 2018 World Cup in Russia after being brought in to rebuild the side following their shock quarter-final exit at the Asian Cup. – Agence France-Presse

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