KUMAMOTO – Japan eased to a comprehensive 3-0 win over Costa Rica in a Kirin Challenge Cup friendly on Sunday, the first home match for coach Asako Takakura since taking over last April.
Kumi Yokoyama struck from the edge of the area in the first half before Mina Tanaka and Yuka Momiki netted after the break in a game held to support Kumamoto Prefecture, struck by two big earthquakes mid-April last year that directly killed 50 people.
“The players were nervous in the first half before a big crowd and looked sluggish but we had better interactions in the second half, ” Takakura said.
“I believe we, at least with the result, were able to cheer the people here, although I wanted an even more vibrant display.”
The young Nadeshiko side was on the front foot throughout, and Yokoyama opened the scoring in the 23rd minute. The diminutive forward scored four goals in last month’s Algarve Cup in Portugal and picked up where she left off, a strong left-footed strike flying into the top right-hand corner to give Japan the lead.
Costa Rica had a rare chance after the break when Melissa Herrera ran behind the defense to latch onto a chipped ball from midfield but blasted wide with goalkeeper Sakiko Ikeda closing down, and Japan finally made its dominance count in the 74th minute.
Tanaka, who was denied on a one-on-one by keeper Dinnia Diaz midway through the second half, didn’t let another chance slip as she volleyed home a low cross from Kumamoto-born substitute Mami Ueno for her first goal under the new coach.
“I was hell-bent on scoring one today so I hung in there just for that till the end, ” she said. “I couldn’t score at the Algarve Cup, and while playing for the team was always priority, I wanted to get one myself too.”
Yui Hasegawa, who made her national team debut in Portugal last month, showed some deft touches on the left of midfield and set up the third for substitute Momiki eight minutes from time. Following a good buildup from the back, Hasegawa bent in an accurate low cross to the far post where Momiki slotted in off the right-hand post.
Japan could have added more as Mizuho Sakaguchi, one of the few players in the team from the World Cup-winning squad in 2011, let fly from 30 meters to force a save from Diaz. Rin Sumida also tried her luck from 25 meters but struck the bar.