BANGKOK, June 14 (Reuters) - Japan virtually assured
themselves of a place in the final round of World Cup qualifiers
after a 3-0 win over strugglers Thailand on Saturday.
Lifted by a jubilant, mostly Japanese crowd at Bangkok's
Rajamangala stadium, Japan overpowered an error-prone Thai team
with goals from Tulio, Yuji Nakazawa and Kengo Nakamura, and
will advance to the final 10 if Oman fail to beat Group 2
leaders Bahrain in Manama later on Saturday.
The victory will help ease the pressure on coach Takeshi
Okada, who has been criticised for his team's patchy start to
Okada, who led the Japanese to their first World Cup in 1998
during his first stint in charge, said his team had now found
their feet in the competition.
'I think we will get better and better the more we play in
the competition,' Okada told reporters. 'Our technique has been
good but we've been lacking the will to win.
'The first half we had to attack and we did whatever it was
to win. We didn't have to push ourselves too much. It was hot
and humid but we played well throughout.'
The three-times Asian champions attacked right from the
start and got off the mark after 23 minutes when Tulio rose to
head home a curling cross from Yasuhito Endo.
With midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura tantalising the Thai
defence, Japan always looked dangerous and punished the hosts
with a succession of neatly-contrived set pieces.
Endo nearly made it two when his well-struck free kick
cannoned off the crossbar but Japan found their second in the
38th minute when Nakazawa's powerful header sailed into the net
from an Endo corner.
Kengo Nakamura sealed the win with two minutes remaining
when he broke free in the area and blasted into the bottom right
Thai coach Charnwit Polcheewin said his team never had a
chance and the defeat showed the huge gap between Asian and
Southeast Asian soccer, which the Thais have dominated for
'We were under constant pressure in the first half, Japan
played very well. We just couldn't play, we were just kicking
the ball away all the time,' Charnwit told reporters.
'We need to step up. We need to move to the next level. Our
players are small, we struggle with the high ball. We need to
start winning at Asian level.'
Oman must win their remaining two games, one of which is
away to Japan, by huge scorelines to stand any hope of reaching
the next round at Japan's expense.
Japan join Bahrain on 10 points, trailed by Oman (4) and
Thailand (1). The top two teams go through.