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LEAD: Soccer: Japan kick off World Cup year with defeat to U.S.+
[February 11, 2006]

LEAD: Soccer: Japan kick off World Cup year with defeat to U.S.+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 10_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: ADDING QUOTES)

Japan made a disappointing start to World Cup year after being condemned to a 3-2 defeat by the United States in a friendly in San Francisco on Friday.

First-half goals from Eddie Pope and Clint Dempsey put the Americans on their way before Taylor Twellman capped an impressive display with the third early in the second period at SBC Park.

Substitute Seiichiro Maki opened his Japan account when he pulled one back on the hour mark and defender Yuji Nakazawa added a second in the dying stages but it proved too little too late for Zico's men.

Akira Kaji saw a shot fizz just over the bar after six minutes as Japan started brightly but it was mainly one-way traffic from that point onward and the U.S. could have easily gone in at the interval four goals to the good.

Captain Landon Donovan narrowly missed the target with a 13th-minute free kick and Josh Wolff forced Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi into a reaction save with a close-range header.

The U.S. deservedly went in front when Twellman headed a deep ball from Todd Dunivant back to Pope, who made no mistake with a crisp finish after in the 24th minute.

The lively Twellman, who struck a hat-trick in the 5-0 win over Norway last month, saw an angled drive beaten away by Kawaguchi and was involved again as Dempsey finished off a sweeping three-man move to double the home side's advantage in the 39th.

Injury-prone striker Tatsuhiko Kubo made his first appearance for Japan since Sept. 2004, starting as a lone striker in front of Shinji Ono, also back after a lengthy injury-forced absence, and Mitsuo Ogasawara.

But Kubo was unable to make any impact and Zico threw on JEF United Chiba target man Maki and handed Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Hisato Sato his Japan debut for the second-half.

However, things went from bad to worse for the Asian champions and Zico was left holding his head in hands just four minutes after the restart as Twellman lost marker Nakazawa to beat Kawaguchi with a stooping header.

Japan improved with the introduction of Makoto Hasebe and Yuki Abe, and Maki headed home Kaji's cross on the hour mark.

Abe and Ogasawara both went close before Nakazawa wrapped up the scoring when he prodded home Ogasawara's corner.

"We started well and had a good first 10 minutes but we lost our rhythm. The goals started to pile up, we were unable to respond and it was looking grim," said Zico.

"But we improved after making changes in the second half and were able to create a good shape and attack," added Zico, who picked out Sato, fellow debutant Hasebe, Maki and Abe for special praise.

"Our rhythm changed after Hasebe, Abe, Maki and Sato came into the game we got goals and they really took their chances today."

"It wasn't a good performance but it's our first game of the year and the players are bound to be a bit rusty. We were able to try some new things out today and we will continue to do that with the games we have coming up."

Zico brought only Japan-based players to the United States while U.S. coach Bruce Arena was also testing domestic-based players in his team's third match of the year after a 0-0 draw with Canada and the win over Norway.

The U.S. match was the first of nine games Japan have lined up ahead of the World Cup, including friendlies against Bosnia-Herzegovina and World Cup hosts Germany.

They return to Japan to play Finland in a friendly in Shizuoka on Feb. 18 and face India four days later in an Asian Cup qualifier before playing the Bosnians in Germany on Feb. 28.

Japan open their World Cup campaign against Australia in Group F in Kaiserslautern on June 12.

They then play Croatia in Nuremburg on June 18 before facing reigning champions Brazil in their final first-round group game in Dortmund four days later.

The United States have been drawn against Italy, Ghana and the Czech Republic in first-round Group E in Germany.

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