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Japan's Success Raises Bar

Soccer: Inamoto's goal gives his team a 1-0 victory over Russia and his country its first victory in World Cup to the delight of fans.

June 10, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shortly after scoring the goal that gave co-host Japan its first-ever World Cup victory Sunday, Junichi Inamoto offered his team and country a rather reasonable piece of advice.

"The important thing," Inamoto said, "is not to get carried away."

Sorry, Junichi. Way too late.

Inamoto, a 22-year-old midfielder who plays professionally for the English club Arsenal, set off wild celebrations across the land of the rising decibel level with his 51st-minute goal, securing Japan's 1-0 triumph over Russia at Yokohama International Stadium.

Sunday night television news programs in Japan overflowed with footage of delirious fans screaming "Nip-pon! Nip-pon!" in the streets, hugging and dancing on pub tables, even jumping off small bridges into water.

"It is a huge moment for football in Japan that we are living right now," Japan Coach Philippe Troussier said. "This is important for Japanese football and the nation."

It is particularly important in that it keeps Japan undefeated in a tournament it is co-hosting with South Korea, which won its opener while Japan tied its first game--and had been lording it over the Japanese in the days since.

Now, Japan has broken into the World Cup victory column, and at 1-0-1 in Group H, it can clinch passage to the second round with a victory over Tunisia on Friday.

In a fast-paced match, the deciding goal was created when Atsushi Yanagasiwa handled a long left-sided cross from Koji Nakata and played it to an onrushing Inamoto, who slithered his way into the Russian penalty area and lofted a precise shot over the reach of goalkeeper Ruslan Nigmatullin.

Russia nearly equalized six minutes later when substitute Vladimir Beschastnykh drew Japan goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki off his line, carried the ball around him but somehow missed the open goal--knocking his shot against the side netting.

Russia had another scoring opportunity denied when Igor Semshov was taken down in the box by Kazuyki Toda, but no foul was called.

"We thought it was a penalty," Russian midfielder Alexander Mostovoi said. "If it had been given as a penalty, who knows what would have happened?"

Troussier, however, maintained that Japan's victory "was fully merited.... We had a lot of pressure on our shoulders and tonight, we saw a brilliant Japanese side play."

Russia (1-1-0) probably will need a victory over Belgium in its final group game to advance to the next round.

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