• Amajita go down in World Cup opener

    South Africa U20 World Cup Amajita celebrate their goal

    Japan came from a goal down to defeat South Africa 2-1 in their Fifa U20 World Cup Group D opening encounter at the Suwon World Cup Stadium, writes MARSHALL GOUTS.

    Amajita coach Thabo Senong started four players, who had all played in the U17 World Cup, in the starting line-up, plus two debutants in Malebogo Modise and Thabo Cele. Japan included the only player plying his trade outside  the country, and the 15-year-old Takefusa Kubo, in their tournament squad.

    The game got off to a lively start with both sides committed to attacking in the opening exchanges.

    Japan had the first opportunity after five minutes of the game when a well-worked passing move saw Kakeru Funaki’s cross to number 9 go wide.

    Amajita took the lead in the 8th minute when Grant Margeman beat the offside trap and got on to the end of Thabo Cele’s lobbed ball before powering home a finish which got a wicked deflection off onrushing Takehiro Tomiyasu.

    South Africa started to boss proceedings and played with more confidence, further carving out the Japanese defence.

    Koki Ogawa came agonisingly close to levelling matters in the 19th minute when goalkeeper Mondli Mpoto’s hesitant clearance saw the ball land kindly for Ogawa, but the forward’s effort crashed against the crossbar.

    The Samurai Blue gradually found their rhythm and inched ever closer to the equaliser, as they saw more of the ball in the Amajita defensive third.

    Japan should have drawn level in the 28th minute when Koji Miyoshi’s cross found Ogawa unmmarked in the area, but the forward again misplaced his effort wide of the target.

    Luther Singh spurned a great chance to double South Africa’s lead when Mpoto’s great distribution sent Matlala Makgalwa on his way and the winger cut the ball back for Singh, but the forward blasted his effort over the bar.

    A poor clearance by Amajita almost gifted their Asian counterparts the equaliser, but Miyoshi’s shot at an empty goal went wide. South Africa were fortunate to head into the half-time break with a one goal lead, with Japan doing all the attacking in the latter stages of the first half.

    Japan started the second half much like they ended the first and were rewarded for their attacking efforts in the 47th minute when Ogawa slotted home from close range.

    Amajita enjoyed a rare attacking spell, but failed to capitalise as Wiseman Meyiwa forced his way into the Japanese area in the 51st minute, but his ferocious strike deflected off a defender, before Cele blasted the rebound over the bar.

    Japan introduced highly rated Kubo in the 58th minute and with his first touch of the ball, the former Barcelona youth academy player released Ogawa, but the onrushing Mpoto anticipated the move and blocked the effort.

    Amajita opted for their first change in the 64th minute as Kobamelo Kodisang was introduced for Makgalwa.

    A minute later, South Africa had a great chance to restore the lead when Margeman’s through ball found Singh, but some heroic defending by Itakura ensured the scores remained level.

    Japan took the lead for the first time in the game in the 72nd minute when a great passing move saw Kobo square the ball for Ritsu Doan, who made no mistake from within the six-yard area.

    Liam Jordan replaced Meyiwa in the 74th minute as Amajita upped their efforts to draw level, but the Japanese defence held firm.

    Substitute Keita Endo almost made it 3-1 with virtually his first touch of the game, but a fine save by Mpoto kept him out.

    South Africa threw numbers forward in search of the equaliser, but could not find a way past a resilient Japanese defence in the remaining minutes of the encounter as Japan ran out 2-1 victors against Amajita.

    Photo: Safa

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