Contributed by: Brett Northey Tuesday, August 16 2005 @ 08:01 am ACST
In their final seeding match of the 2005 International Cup, at Optus Oval last Saturday 13th August, the Samurai were finally able to get their running game going to find space and use precision passing to cut a swathe through the embattled Spanish side.
The first quarter was close with the under-manned Bulls very competitive, using their bigger bodies to out-muscle the Japanese. The Spanish kept the contest tight and when number 14 (listed wrong in the program guide) ran into the open goal and slotted what appeared to be a drop-kick goal, a pang of doubt must have run through the Samurai. But after clean running play down the field by Japan, Hiroyuki Shiba curled a right foot shot through to steady the Asian side and at the first break they lead 1.2 (8) to 1.0 (6).
In the second stanza the Japanese quickened the pace and the Bulls were starting to drop off their men with the Samurai speed and fitness taking its toll. "Crazyhorse" was marking strongly for Japan and when Shiba goaled after a free for being tackled without the ball it was clear they were running away with the match. Four goals to one in the second was followed by four to nil in the third, although the last goal was angrily disputed by Spain's coach Jeff Callow because with 15 minute quarters and no time-on it was hard to understand how the goal was allowed several seconds after the 15 minute mark.
In the last the hard running and neat 20 metre passing continued as Japan exploited superior numbers on the bench (Spain lacking numbers through a small initial squad and injuries). As coach Troy Beard substituted his players it was obvious that the gruff vocal instructions in Japanese can be quite misleading, because clearly he loves his players and the feeling is mutual as they regularly embraced on the sidelines (in a manly footy kind of way of course). Two goals to nil left Japan 60 point winners in the play-off to avoid bottom. Great to see Spain in Australia for the first time, but Japan clearly deserved to avoid 10th spot.
Japan 11.7 (73)
Spain 2.1 (13)