The last time Japan played North Korea in the qualifiers of the AFC Youth Championships, they needed an 85th minute goal to win. On Sunday, Japan went a step ahead, defeating their rivals 2-0 here in their opening match.
Striker Kazuhisa Kawahara found the net from a long-ranger in the 33rd minute and midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi doubled the lead six minutes from time. However, till Kawahara's opener, Japan looked rather shaky, finding it difficult to get past the maze of Koreans defence. Once they took lead, however, there was no doubt which was the better side.
The setting at the Kanteerava Stadium was almost perfect. Fluttering in the breeze was a banner, "Brigada Yokohama," and a group of locals in Japanese shirts doing all the cheering. But the pitch threatened to spoil the show. Saturday's sudden rain had left the ground heavy and Japan struggled initially to get their rhythm, despite having played here in May as part of their preparations for the tournament.
North Korea earned their first corner in the 25th minute but Chol Myong Ri headed out. Eight minutes later, they paid the penalty, as Kawahara collected a ball from Alomu Tanaka and rightfooted it into the far corner. After too many mispasses and a lack of communication at the back, the goal was the fillip Japan needed. Suddenly they were a lot more confident and attacking and the Koreans, playing only one striker, started feeling the heat.
In another match, Iran produced some scintillating football to defeat Tajikistan 3-1. Mostafa Chatrabgoon scored an brace and Shahram Goudarzi one for Iran while Akhtam Khamrakulov scored for Tajikistan.